Optimizing Nutrition Apps for Broad Consumer Adoption

Apple recently announced a partnership with Nike, linking its Apple Watch with the Nike+ running app. I wish more collaboration between tech giants, food and beverage manufacturers and grocery retailers were keeping nutrition apps apace. 

Fitness apps have "crossed the chasm" between early adopters and the mainstream market because the technology has virtually disappeared, enabling the "rest of us" to use it easily and passively. Wearable sales surged 71% last year to 78 million units. The technology does a great job of tracking our exercise output and calorie burn with no necessary interaction on our part. But when it comes to matching nutrition intake to exercise output, the technology fails us.

Once we step into the world of nutrition apps, forget passive tracking. Now we are asked to keep diaries, scan bar codes, manually enter restaurant meals, enter recipes. Puleez! Here's the nutrition and fitness app I want:

The goal for all users is optimal health. There's too much emphasis on weight loss in nutrition apps. Weight loss is a strategy towards greater health, but not the ultimate goal.



I would hope that the goal of optimal health would lead to a prescription of shopping and recipes based on Michael Pollan's rules for eating: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”

I enter only my (and my family's) height, weight, age and any food allergies.

I'm presented with a week's shopping list, meals and recipe options based on a week's capture of my fitness activity.

I accept a week of meals and check them off as they are consumed. Those I don't check off get a national average score that I won't like and will help check my departures from plan. No entering what I actually ate.

My level of exercise would determine my next week's shopping list. By working hard and sticking to plan, my app would do what we do anyway — reward me with an occasional indulgence.

I'm prompted to rate meals from time to time and the app feeds me more of what I like and less of what I do not.

This approach changes the game from active to passive management. And from tracking calories and steps to optimizing health based on nutrition and exercise. I'm not telling the app what I'm consuming. The app tells me what to buy, what to make, how to make it and the exercise plan — based on age, height, weight and demonstrated fitness behavior — to integrate with diet. 

With my nutrition and fitness app, I could place my week's grocery order with one click knowing that what I've bought is optimized for my (or my family's) health. And instructions for preparing each meal (and snack) just await my engagement.

I know, I know. Sounds like I'm turning food into fuel — the emotional into the functional. And you'd be right. But left to our own designs, look where the emotional takes us. We don't need an app for mixing Cheez Doodles with a few Ding Dongs and washing it all down with a cold Bud. We got that. We struggle with buying the right foods and preparing those foods well.

Apple has struggled in the wearables space, trailing Fitbit and Garmin. Apple recently announced a partnership with Nike to gain traction in the fitness space. Unveiling an updated Apple Watch last week, Apple COO Jeff Williams said, "We think Apple Watch is the ultimate device for a healthy life." But a healthy life isn't just about the number of steps we take or the miles we peddle. The foundation is the fuel that enables us to take those steps. Integrating nutrition and fitness into a single app is the ultimate device for a healthy life. An Apple a day, Mr. Cook?

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