Bitesome – a new diet and nutrition-tracking app for public health research

Our group is finishing a new diet and nutrition-tracking app called Bitesome.  Similar to the many diet-tracking apps that already exist for smartphones, the new app allows people to track the foods they each. But, somewhat differently, Bitesome tracks numerous factors that help public health and nutrition scientists better understand the context the underlies diet.

Bitesome utilizes sensors on the smartphones to better understand dietary context.  This includes, GPS, motion, and camera data.  Not only can researchers see when and where meals occur, but the nutritional content of each food item, query the neighborhood food environment, observe the physical activity that occurred before and after meals, etc.

Moreover, to better support science, researchers can access real-time Bitesome data from participants enrolled in research studies using a secure web portal.  The website will support researchers by providing data reports for subjects in the study.

Bitesome is currently undergoing testing.  The app will be available for iOS iPhones and Android smartphones in early 2018, starting with deployment in the ENACTS hypertension intervention study in Seattle — a new study funded by the National Institutes of Health, which is focused on minority health disparities.

The new Bitesome app builds upon previous smartphone app development in our research group, including past and ongoing studies that have used our CalFit smartphone app.


New center to develop mobile apps to improve Native American cardiovascular health

National Vital Statistics System, CDC, and the U.S. Census Bureau

Hypertension is a leading risk factor for cardiovascular disease, affecting 1 in 3 US adults or about 78 million people. It is very common as well as understudied in American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders. A new center called Native-Controlling Hypertension and Risk Through Technology (Native-CHART) will bring together academic and community partners, who will conduct research and outreach to improve hypertension in these populations.

Native-CHART is one of two new centers funded by the NIH National Intitutes of Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD) that together will share $20 million over the next 5 years. Native-CHART is co-led by Dedra Buchwald at Washington State University and Spero Manson at the University of Colorado. The center will have broad reach across Native populations, including Satellite Centers in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest, Rocky Mountain, Plains, Southwest, Northern, and Southeast regions.

New technologies will play a key role in Native-CHART, both as tools for research, as well as tools for engaging with groups in the center. For instance, mobile technologies will play a role in collecting objective data on a variety of risk factors including diet, food environments, and physical activity for hypertension.  Dr. Edmund Seto’s group will help develop mobile apps that track aspects of cardiovascular risk for the center.

New Phased Innovation Grant from NIEHS to Develop Next Generation Exposure Assessment Device

In collaboration with other UW collaborators, my research group will receive a new 5-year phased innovation grant from the NIEHS. Under the funding opportunity (RFA-ES-13-013), the intent is “to facilitate the translation of prototype devices for characterization of personal exposures into field use by supporting a phased validation effort involving a partnership between tool developers and environmental epidemiologists”.  The new grant will support much needed pilot-stage iterative prototyping, refinement, and usability testing of new exposure devices, which will demonstrate device reliability and data quality, and usefulness in real-world settings. The later stages of the grant will support larger scale deployment in a large epidemiological study to improve science and to refine associations between environmental exposures and health outcomes.  This new grant will utilize my new rapid prototyping lab at UW — a newly renovated space for collaborative design, engineering, and testing of new exposure assessment tools.


We’re Semifinalists! Voice your support for our submission to the Knight Foundation News Challenge: Health

We’ve partnered with Stamen Design — leaders in data visualization on a Knight News Foundation Challenge for Health. And…

We’re one of 40 Semifinalists!

Yay!  Check out our submission here.

If we win, the project would allow us to work with Chabot Space and Science Center and Alameda County secondary school students to explore the levels air pollutions at and around their schools and homes.  The project will make use of data collected from my groups ongoing research projects: this one, and this one too.

Help us spread the word about the project, and if you like the idea, “applaud” it.


The Health Effects Institute Funding Near Roadway Monitoring and Exposure Assessment Study

My group at UW will be funded next spring by the Health Effects Institute (HEI) to conduct a 2-year study in which we will deploy over 60 traffic-related real-time air pollution monitors throughout Alameda County.  The first study of its kind, the dense monitoring network will provide crucial information on the ebb and flow of traffic related air pollution at extremely fine spatial and temporal scales.  The network will enable exposure assessment experiments within Alameda County, which will also be conducted as part of the HEI-funded study.  For more information contact me:


China NSF to fund our study of PM exposure and children’s development in Yunnan

Following a pilot study that UCSF medical student Hilary Ong conducted in last winter in Yunnan using our low cost PANDA PM monitors, China NSF is funding a study in which the new monitors will be used to assess exposures to PM and their effect on children’s development in rural Yunnan. The lead PI, Professor Li Yan of Kunming Medical University has collaborated with us on our food environment research in Kunming.  We are looking forward to working with her on the PM children’s exposure study.  Hilary will lead the research on our side for this study. Congratulations Hilary!

Bay Area Air Quality Management District funds our new sensor study

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District has funded a collaboration between Professor Ron Cohen’s group in Atmospheric Chemistry and my group in Environmental Health to evaluate new air quality sensors in the laboratory for future deployment at sites within the Bay Area.  The goal of the project is to inform how sensors may be used to augment routine air quality monitoring sites to better assess community exposures to air pollution.  This funding will support the work of PhD student David Holstius, who is leading the development and evaluation of new low-cost air quality sensor networks in my research group.


Fieldwork Completed for the Shanghai CalFit Beverage Study

Working with researchers from University of North Carolina Chapel Hill and the Shanghai CDC, we just finished fieldwork for a study of beverage consumption using the CalFit smartphone system.

We used the CalFit smartphone application to conduct surveys of beverages consumed by everyday people living in and around the city in Shanghai.  The study will compare beverage consumption recorded by phone versus methods used in the Chinese National Health and Nutrition Survey.  Additionally, the CalFit system will provide information on the spatial and temporal patterns of beverages consumed across urban and rural neighborhoods.



CalFit EMA — Smartphone-based Ecological Momentary Assessment

CalFit EMA allows researchers to conduct Ecological Momentary Assessments (EMAs) using smartphones.

EMAs are short surveys — a few questions — that occur during random times during the day.  They measure in-the-moment actions, emotions, and location.  The use of smartphones for EMA takes advantage of the fact that many people are already used to and comfortable with carrying their phone, and responding during the day to phone calls, text messages, emails, calendar events, etc.  Mobile EMAs capture what traditional paper questionnaires and direct observation studies cannot because researchers cannot following subjects for long periods of time (and even if they did so they would likely alter the subjects’ behaviors).

CalFit EMA is part of the CalFit system of apps.  CalFit EMA together with CalFit D (a time-location and physical activity tracker) provides rich contextual sensing of an individuals health.

CalFit EMA is extremely flexible.  It has these features:

  • Runs on inexpensive Android 2.3.3+ phones (e.g., ~$130 Samsung Galaxy Y phone).
  • Completely customizable questionnaires.
  • Can be used with or without a SIM-activated Android phone.
  • Using a SIM-activited phone with a mobile data plan allows for real-time data uploading to an Internet server.  If used without a SIM, data are simply stored on the phone’s memory card, and researchers can download the data later.
  • The phone logs times and locations when EMAs are completed allowing for studies of both temporal and spatial contextual factors.









CalFit EMA was developed by Dr. Seto through a grant from the NIH NIEHS R01ES020409.

If interested in using CalFit EMA, contact Dr. Seto.