Citizen Cyberscience – CarbMap

CarbMap aims to provide users with easy access to nutritional information when eating out at restaurants. This type of information is valuable to many health conscious people, especially patients with diabetes.

This location-based app will aggregate carbohydrate totals in two separate ways. First, it will compile official nutritional estimates from chain restaurants. This information is already public, but not accessed as often as it could because it requires users to load the websites of each restaurant they may visit.

CarbMap also looks to provide nutritional estimates from small, independent restaurants as well. This will rely on individual users providing information about the menus and portion size from restaurants that do not provide this information themselves. This citizen cyberscience project thus looks to tap the “wisdom of the crowd” and network the insight of people who have already visited these restaurants, providing a knowledge base where there currently is none.

The process of estimating carb counts of menu items is in itself beneficial for patients with diabetes and other users. CarbMap will provide an educational guide to help users learn how to accurately estimate these totals. This will include a breakdown of common ingredients as well as general estimates of standard menu items. With local participation, a user will help judge how a particular dish at a particular restaurant falls within these general guidelines. The site will also allow users to upload pictures of their food. As a registered user, this will allow them to create a personal log of their eating history.

While the process of estimating carb counts requires human intervention at this time, there is interesting research being done at such places as Purdue University that could simplify this process. Their TADA (Technology Assisted Dietary Assessment) project uses photos from mobile phones and translate it into nutritional breakdowns.

Nonetheless, the current process of manually estimating carb counts is beneficial because it gets users to be more self-aware about the food they are eating. The simple behavior of either taking a picture and recording the carb count or loading a saved reading from the site is a valuable moment of reflection.

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