“Chow Checker” App Identifies Food Allergies—Created by Students

(3BL Media/Justmeans) - Researchers estimate that up to 15 million Americans have food allergies and that this potentially life threatening disease affects one in every 13 children (under 18 years of age) in the U.S. That’s roughly two in every classroom! The economic cost of children’s food allergies is nearly $25 billion per year. A study released in 2013 by the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention shows that food allergies among children increased approximately 50 per cent between 1997 and 2011. Unfortunately, although the number of people who have a food allergy is growing, but there is no clear answer why.

So when a team of eighth-graders at The Hampstead Academy in New Hampshire created a smartphone app called the ‘Chow Checker’, which identifies food allergies, they won the grand prize at Verizon’s App Challenge, hands down. The school kids submitted their video pitch last school year and got to work with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab to turn their idea into a reality. It is now available for download from Google Play. Alex Mielens, ninth-grade team member, says, “We knew that allergies were a pretty big problem and we thought we could help solve that problem in our school and other places, helping people who have allergies to stop from buying foods that may contain allergens.”

The ‘Chow Checker’ allows users to develop a profile and select up to 12 allergens. If they scan a food item or search for it in the app and it contains something to which they’re allergic, the app will instantly let them know. The app uses food ingredient data from Nutritionix, a company that provides daily updated data from grocery stores and restaurants. The database includes more than 300,000 food items and adds almost 1,000 more items each week.

Verizon thought this app was a very original idea and a winner, as it can potentially be extremely helpful for those with food allergies. However, no app is fool-proof and there is always a chance for error. For the ‘Chow Checker’, that means while the Nutritionix database is updated daily, it doesn’t include food-recall information, which can be an issue when food is recalled because of undeclared allergens. Unfortunately, every three minutes, a food allergy reaction sends someone to the emergency department in the States; that is more than 200,000 emergency department visits per year. 

In the meantime, researchers are trying to discover why food allergies are on the rise in developed countries worldwide and to learn more about the impact of the disease in developing nations. More than 17 million Europeans have a food allergy; hospital admissions for severe reactions in children have risen seven-fold over the past decade, according to the European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (EAACI).

Photo Credit: Verizon

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