Is NLP Enough to Set Evolve Apart from Other Calorie Apps?

Ryan Black

Users no longer have to burn calories typing their meals into their phones.

A new entry into the sphere of cell phone calorie tracking is leaning on one small change to set itself apart: natural language processing (NLP).

Evolve Health claims to have built “the world's fastest calorie tracking app and automated health advisor,” because it incorporates NLP to allow users to simply state what they have eaten rather than type it in. The “AI Health Advisor”, as the company calls it, is named Ēva. Once it has been informed of what the user ate, it identifies caloric and nutrient content information and updates the user’s progress toward their daily goals.

"When you want to start on a path to a healthier place, a common obstacle is how time consuming it is to keep track of your health and staying motivated," said Stephen Mata, co-founder & CEO of Evolve Fitness.

Evolve is counting on its time-saving NLP technology to incentivize users to follow through on their dietary and fitness goals and continue using the app, because like all mobile applications, health and fitness apps suffer a near-total interest decay factor.

Calorie-counting apps are examined critically in the health community, with some science indicating that their benefits may be complicated. A 2014 article published in Annals of Internal Medicine concluded that “Smartphone apps for weight loss may be useful for individuals who are ready to self-monitor calories [but] for the average overweight primary care patient, however, introducing a smartphone app is unlikely to produce significant weight change.”

A 2016 Journal of Medical Internet Research mHealth study found that most health apps were lacking in actionable information. The authors rated 10 popular apps based on “the extent to which health behavior theory was integrated into the app,” and none of them fared well.

“Future apps should incorporate constructs such as self-efficacy, vicarious learning, and self-reward to increase positive outcomes” they concluded. The Evolve app, according to an early App Store reviewer, does not contain means of logging exercise.

While calorie tracking via cell phone is not necessarily new — such apps have existed in mobile application stores essentially since smartphones came to be – they are extremely popular consumer health-tracking tools, with thousands of options combining for tens of millions of downloads. Evolve Health’s incorporation of NLP is differentiating, but the field is crowded and their impact on people’s lives is uncertain.

Sustained success in the app world, particularly in the health app world, isn’t always easy to come by. However, Evolve Health, has seen some early success. While it has only existed for about a year, the company has raised about $830,000 in funding.