Archive for June 12th, 2011

The Latest Weight Loss App

Sunday, June 12, 2011 // Uncategorized

  • The Wall Street Journal

I’ve written that there seems to be an Iphone  app for everything.  There are many that count calories.  This is the first that I’ve heard of that will estimate the calories of your meal. 

A Picture Is Worth 1,000 Calories

How does the addictive Meal Snap app know what you ate? A little magic and then some


Compulsive eating, I get. But compulsive food photography? If you’re one of those people who tweets and posts your meals on Facebook, I’ve always considered you a bit of a nut.

Koren Shadmi for The Wall Street JournalSnap a photo of a dish; the app will identify it and calculate the calorie count within seconds.



It wasn’t until I found Meal Snap, a $3 iPhone app created by Daily Burn, Inc., that I gained some insight into the food photo phenomenon. It’s an astounding tool: Snap a photo of a dish; the app will identify it and calculate the calorie count within seconds. But exactly how does it know I’m eating a chicken potpie? Though the creators chalk it up to “magic,” I presumed there had to be someone in Bangalore peeking at my snapshots. I asked Daily Burn’s CEO, Andy Smith, if this was the case. Smith’s answer was vague: “It is a combination of people and some advanced algorithms built on top of our database of 400,000 foods.”

Aha! But who are these “people”? Daily Burn wouldn’t elaborate, but technology expert Scott Steinberg, CEO of TechSavvy Global, speculates that they are likely “Mechanical Turks.” Says Mr. Steinberg: “Mechanical Turk,’s freelancing platform, puts up ads saying something like ‘For two to five cents, can you identify the food that is in this image?'” Interesting. So it may turn out that there are those even more obsessive than food photo fetishists—folks who figure out what others are eating for pennies a pop.

Make Those Photos Drool-Worthy

3 essential tricks to irresistible food shots

1. Head for the Sun. If you know you’re going to be shooting your meal (covertly and politely, of course) try to get a window seat. “Natural light that’s filtered through glass is always best,” says Penny de los Santos, a contributing photographer for Saveur.

2. Kill the Flash. If it’s dark and you’re shooting with a phone, your flash will make the most gourmet meal look like cafeteria food. Ms. de Los Santos recommends a dinner companion illuminate the dish with a candle, a flashlight app or multiple phones. It’s geeky, but it works.

3. Get the Big Picture.Everyone wants to shoot juices oozing out of a burger, but if you get too close it becomes abstract. For good composition, Ms. de Los Santos says to pull back and give the subject a little space. Food you can identify is always more appetizing.

With 50,000 downloads since its April launch, Meal Snap already has a cult following, myself included. But while most probably use it as an easy way to keep a meal journal and track their caloric intake, it was more of a game to me—I simply wanted to outsmart these “Turks.”

Starting easy, I snapped a Big Mac. The app immediately recognized it and returned the calorie range as 396-594. McDonald’s lists it at 540. Close enough. Then I tried to stump it with ethnic food. The mechanical Turk, not from Bangalore but apparently of Cajun heritage, identified Indian dal as “shrimp étouffée, 445-667 calories.” When a key lime pie returned “milk peas, 67-100 calories,” I thought, what are “milk peas” and exactly what part of Mechanical Turkey is this person from?

Feeling a little sorry for this Turk, I helped him out by submitting an optional caption for my next meal of rabbit roulade with cheese-stuffed squash blossom. A swift response gave a tight range of 239-258 calories, deemed correct by One last trick, a plate of dog biscuits, fetched: “Whoops! Not food!”

Meal Snap can be a useful, if sometimes unreliable, diet tracker. But for me, it’s a sport, an entertainment and more importantly, proof that technology is really only as good as the “magicians” behind it.

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Ovarian Cancer Screening Update

Sunday, June 12, 2011 // Uncategorized

Unfortunately, there is no good screening test or combination of screening tests  for ovarian cancer as this latest study concludes.  This is a summary from the ACP Observer:

Screening may not decrease ovarian cancer mortality rates, study finds

Screening for ovarian cancer with CA-125 tests and transvaginal ultrasound may not reduce mortality rates, a new study suggests.

To determine the effect of ovarian cancer screening on mortality, researchers from the Prostate, Lung, Colorectal and Ovarian (PLCO) Cancer Screening trial randomly assigned women to an intervention group (screening with CA-125 and transvaginal ultrasound at baseline, annual transvaginal ultrasound for three additional years, and annual CA-125 for five additional years) or a usual care group (usual medical care with no annual screening). The study was conducted at 10 U.S. screening centers from November 1993 to July 2001. The primary outcome measure was death from ovarian cancer, and secondary outcome measures were incidence of ovarian cancer and complications of screening and diagnostic tests. The study was published early online June 4 by the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Study participants ranged in age from 55 to 74 years at study entry and were followed for a median of 12.4 years (range, 10.9 to 13.0 years). Overall, 39,105 women were assigned to the intervention group and 39,111 were assigned to the usual care group. Two hundred twelve women in the intervention group and 176 in the usual care group were diagnosed with ovarian cancer (5.7 per 10,000 person-years and 4.7 per 100,000 person-years, respectively; rate ratio [RR], 1.21; 95% CI, 0.99 to 1.48), and 118 and 100 women, respectively, died of the disease (3.1 per 10,000 person-years vs. 2.6 per 10,000 person-years; RR for mortality, 1.18; 95% CI, 0.82 to 1.71).

A total of 3,285 women in the intervention group had false-positive results on screening; of these, 1,080 had surgical follow-up, and of these, 163 had one or more serious complications, defined as infection, direct surgical complications, cardiovascular or pulmonary complications, or other. In the usual care group, 2,914 women died of causes other than ovarian, colorectal and lung cancer versus 2,924 women in the intervention group (76.2 per 10,000 person-years vs. 76.6 per 10,000 person-years; RR, 1.01; 95% CI, 0.96 to 1.06).

The authors acknowledged that their study did not collect data on all aspects of treatment, such as type of systemic therapy. They also noted that although the study was powered to detect a mortality reduction of 35%, smaller effect sizes could also be considered worthwhile from a public health perspective, and that the screening tests studied might be more useful if different cutoffs were used to define positive results. However, they concluded that in the U.S., the screening strategy used in the PLCO trial “does not reduce disease-specific mortality in women at average risk for ovarian cancer but does increase invasive medical procedures and associated harms.”

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