purdue university college of consumer and family sciences
campus images
October 2007

Snapping Up Your Food

Is a picture really worth a thousand words?  If the picture is a cell phone snap of food before it is eaten, it might be!  The inaccuracy of food recall records has been a recognized stumbling block to dieters and obesity researchers for many years.  Carol Boushey, cell phoneassociate professor in the Department of Foods and Nutrition, recognized the potential for technology to address this issue.  As part of a newly-awarded NIH grant, she plans to help health-conscious people more accurately gauge what’s on their plates with a cell phone snapshot of the food they plan to eat. This idea of using cameras to evaluate your diet by snapping pictures of your meals is not a new one," Boushey said. "What makes our proposal different is that we're designing the software to better evaluate portion sizes and nutritional content.  This project will add strong scientific grounding to a technique already in use.”  Currently, dieters can subscribe to online sites that monitor eating habits by critiquing photos they send of their meals. The idea offers busy people the chance to get nutritional feedback without spending time writing down all of their meals, drinks and snacks.

There is powerful potential for this application of cell phone technology, but lack of tools to accurately interpret data limits its effectiveness.  “Some of the online sites advertising this technology have sent messages to people advising them to stop drinking a soda when they were actually drinking tea. That will not happen here."  Dr. Boushey said.

This project is one of the research programs outlined in the Genes and Environment Initiative, a five-year effort by the National Institutes of Health to identify the genetic and environmental underpinnings of asthma, diabetes, cancer and other common illnesses.

Boushey, principal investigator of the work, will provide the nutritional knowledge that will form the basis of the software's food evaluations and help determine possible health impacts. She said Purdue's strengths in foods and nutrition, engineering, and technology made collaboration among researchers as simple as walking across campus.

Edward Delp, a professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and an expert in image analysis, will be working to create a reliable method for estimating the sizes of food in the photos. David Ebert, a professor of electrical and computer engineering, will primarily be responsible for techniques to help confirm the portion sizes of the food in pictures. Kyle Lutes, an associate professor in the Department of Computer and Information Technology, will put his experience with hand-held computing devices to work by designing necessary programming.

"There is plenty of work for us to do," Boushey said. "It's going to be difficult to tell the difference between, say, lamb and a pork chop. There's the difficulty of discerning between three cups and one cup in a photo."

"We're committed to figuring out the details," Boushey said. "Diet is one of the most difficult exposures to measure in terms of how it contributes to disease. People are so confused about diet these days. We want to offer good advice to the public so they can stop throwing up their hands and saying, 'I'm going to eat whatever I want.'" For more information, contact: Dr. Carol Boushey at: boushey@purdue.edu.

Phytochemicals Course Provides Students with “Expert” Knowledge

Imagine being able to sit in a classroom and participate in a real time class from experts across the country.  This futuristic idea basket full of fruits and vegetablesfor student learning is happening now at Purdue University.  Dr. Jay Burgess, an Associate Professor in Foods and Nutrition at Purdue University, is involved in an innovative course managed by The Texas A&M University System and run through the Trans-Texas Video Conference Network. This course is the first-of-its kind using experts from across the country to deliver a single course that can be taken by students from universities across the country from professors teaching from their own site.  Dr. Burgess is one of the experts tapped for this course.

Using experts across the country allows a course to be multidisciplinary as professors with specific expertise can represent a variety of disciplines.  For this course, students hear from the disciplines of agriculture, food science, nutrition, biology, chemistry, medicine, and toxicology as they relate to the effect of fruits and vegetables on human health.  The emphasis for this modern day course is on the exploration of phytochemicals in fruits and vegetables.

Students are challenged by the experts to understand the biologically plausible reasons why the consumption of fruits and vegetables help slow or prevent the initiation of cancer and other chronic diseases.  Fruits and vegetables contain a myriad of phytochemicals or bioactive compounds shown to have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antitumorigenic and healing effects.  How better to learn this from individuals with international recognition in phytochemical research.  The course uses interactive video, electronic mail, and the world-wide web to develop and disseminate instructional materials to participating students.

Students who have participated in the course feel the course is very informative and new.  Their feedback indicates, “the different instructors with different backgrounds made the course very interesting,” and “there should be more courses like this!  Not only the subject matter, but they like the format (teleconferencing links to multi-educational sites, with the experts in their fields).”

The course is offered every other year and Purdue has been a host site in the past.  For more information about the offering please visit the course website at http://phytochemicals.tamu.edu or contact Dr. Jay Burgess at burgesjr@purdue.edu.


Walks Across Indiana Gets Hoosiers Moving

people walkingNew habits are hard to make and old habits are hard to break, but Extension Educators in many Indiana counties are helping Indiana residents place value on new healthy habits. As a way to encourage Indiana residents to get in shape and focus on the importance of healthy living, Walks Across Indiana were hosted by 41 counties. The project, co-sponsored by Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service, is part of the INShape Indiana initiative. "It is recommended that folks get 30 minutes of exercise daily, and walking is one of the best forms of exercise for people of all ages," said Karen Zotz, Purdue Extension's Consumer and Family Sciences program director. "It's a good way to spend time with family members, a spouse or friends."

This year, participants in 17 reporting counties reported 1,012 walkers covering nearly 2,342 miles - more than 4,684,000 steps. "We're doing this to promote healthy choices," Zotz said. "We want people to think about personal health and how their health affects their families."

In addition to the walks, many counties provided information, including handouts that covered topics such as selecting proper walking shoes and portion control when eating. Some walks included health fairs, blood pressure checks, pre-walking warm-up information and pedometer give-a-ways. "We provided information on nutrition because exercise alone is not enough," Zotz said.

Participating counties partnered with county health departments, local businesses and other area sponsors. In addition to Purdue Extension and the Indiana State Department of Health, sponsors provided water (Coca-Cola) and pedometers (Novartis) for participants. For more information on the Walks Across Indiana contact the CFS Extension office at 765-494-8252.


Foods & Nutrition Department
Stone Hall, Room 213
700 West State Street
West Lafayette, IN

Phone: (765) 494-8228
Fax: (765) 494-0674

Copyright © 2005, Purdue University, all rights reserved.
An equal access/equal opportunity university.
Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN 47907 USA, (765) 494-4600