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A Conversation with Jawbone’s Nutrition PM

A trip to Disneyland convinced Laura Borel to change her career path.

Borel, a London-born Switzerland resident, chose to major in chemical engineering at Stanford. As part of the school’s international orientation, she and her classmates took a trip to Disneyland. It was there that Borel noticed one staggering difference between the kids at the theme park and the kids who lived back home.

“The breadth of childhood obesity made me wonder: how does this happen?” said Borel. So she switched her major to nutrition, obtained a master’s degree in science and engineering and founded Nutrivise, a creator of nutrition apps. The company was acquired by Jawbone in 2013, and she joined the team as the nutrition and coaching product manager. Her expertise greatly shaped the latest Jawbone UP app update, released today, largely focused on weight tracking and food logging.

I sat down with Laura to learn more about the update, and the research that went into making the additions to the app possible.

Q: When you joined Jawbone from Nutrivise, what did you set out to achieve?

A: We know that dieting is a huge issue for many people, with a massive failure rate after two years. It’s important to look closer: why is that? People typically fall off the wagon or set their goals too high. We know that programs like Nutrisystem, which deliver meal plans right to you, work really well so we wanted to bring it into the digital age. We wanted to make recommendations based on your own data and the world around you.

Q: Broadly, describe a bit about whats new with this update.

A: There are two main focuses of the update. The first major addition is weight tracking. Now, we are allowing people to set weight goals within the app, and track progress toward their target weight over time. And the second addition, which really includes many new features, involves streamlining the food logging experience. We are making it easier and more helpful, providing more guidance along the way. We worked with a wide range of nutritionalists and food experts on this, including leading dietitian Ashley Koff, RD, who highlights the effectiveness of food journaling, but acknowledges that writing everything down can be tedious. We are addressing that head-on.

Q: How exactly does the app make it easier to log food?

A: The food interface has been redesigned, bringing forward the most common food logging patterns: searching for your food, barcode scanning, looking up restaurants, water logging and putting foods you regularly eat front and center.

We’ve introduced Food Score, which is a metric that quickly assesses the overall healthiness of your food, whether it’s just a bag of chips or an entire meal, on a scale of 1 to 10 (10 is the healthiest). By comparing similar foods in one category, they can see which option is healthier.

We’ve also introduced common pairings. It’s a really neat feature where we suggest other food items that members of the community logged. For example, if you log a hamburger and a soda, we will suggest fries and ketchup. People forget to add ketchup, and it has a ton of sugar which can affect the healthiness of that meal. (ed note: see Meal of Fortune for a deep dive on this feature.)

The hope is to give people a sense of how theyre doing throughout their day, and also guide them to make smarter choices.

Q: What additions to the app are you particularly excited about?

Food Score is a really exciting feature for us, because it brings a new angle to food logging. Everyone else is counting calories, but 1,200 calories of jellybeans doesn’t interact with your body in the same way as 1,200 calories of fruit and vegetables. Nobody is addressing this, and I think it’s obvious we need to look at quality as well as quantity, and provide a metric that doesn’t work with complete data.

Q: And how is Food Score calculated?

A: We are looking at nutrients that have been scientifically proven to improve your health (fiber, calcium, and unsaturated fats), vs. nutrients that are a proven detriment to your health, using USDA guidelines.

Q: UP now integrates with four new apps and services. How will they enhance the food logging experience?

A: Platforms play a critical part here. With UP, your steps and sleep are logged automatically. Our big question was, what’s stopping us from logging food automatically? We are the first ones to do this, and being able to leverage the signals is key.

If you order a chef-prepared meal from Munchery, a meal delivery service, it will be automatically logged within UP.

The Orange Chef Co. also facilitates automatic food logging through its WiFi-connected food scale, which helps you create recipes and see how the nutritional values change as you add new ingredients.

The new partners can also provide actionable guidance based on your UP data. HealthyOut, a national meal delivery service for restaurants, will look at your workouts tracked through UP, then make recommendations on what foods you should order. PlateJoy creates meal plans, dynamically recommending recipes based on your sleep, then delivers the groceries you need to cook the recipes in that plan. If you logged less than 6 hours of sleep, it will suggest a high protein breakfast.

This is just the start. For any product to grow, its all about the ecosystem and making things actionable. Doing that with Jawbone alone is just not scalable, so being able to leverage the partners to create an ecosystem and create something bigger than the sum of its parts is great. We expect many more apps and services to join the platform.

Q: How does this update benefit the UP Community?

A: We’ve heard the user feedback: while more than 89% of our users have tried logging food, they don’t stick with it because it can be difficult. 75% of our community had weight goals when they began using UP. 59% of people think that filing your taxes is easier than eating healthy. We really just want to help people that don’t understand food. Further, even if you don’t want to lose weight or track every meal, we are answering the “so what” of logging food by informing you how your food habits impact your steps and sleep.

 

About The Author

Leslie Williams

Writing, editing and all things social at Jawbone. I enjoy AP Style, french fries and drag queens. I detest mustard, pigeons and bad commercial jingles. Find me on Twitter at @ohgoodnessmeh, but for managing social media as my day job, it's a weak attempt!