Hospital Taps Tech Power to Enhance Wellness

UCSF Medical Center’s new apps track food intake, energy output.

By 
Paul King, Editor

Smart Choice, Smart U was introduced at UCSF’s
wellness fair.

SAN FRANCISCO—The Food and Nutrition Services department at UCSF Medical Center is turning to a couple of high-tech gadgets to help customers live a healthier lifestyle.

Dan Henroid, director of food and nutrition services, says the department has partnered with two local technology firms to enhance the department’s Smart Choice program. Smart Choice was launched in 2009 as a healthy brand for food items that meet certain nutritional criteria. The program was created by the foodservice department in partnership with the Retail Services program of UCSF’s Campus Life Services. The hospital serves a variety of Smart Choice meals, entrées, side items, soup, beverages and vending items daily in its Moffitt Café, Moffitt Café Express and the 920 Express.

The upgraded program is known as Smart Choice, Smart U. It had a soft launch in January during UCSF’s Wellness Expo and went live about a week later. Henroid claims that the hospital is the first to make use of this technology in the foodservice arena.

The two firms Henroid has partnered with are MyFitnessPal and Fitbit.

“Most people seeking help from a wellness program are interested in one of three things: smoking cessation, weight management and physical activity,” he explains. “These apps help with two of those three.”

The MyFitnessPal application allows members to use a bar code scanner to easily find and add nutrition information for a product directly into a food diary. In addition, they can search for food from a database of more than 2 million products or manually enter the nutrition information for new foods. MyFitnessPal is available for free to all iOS, Android, Blackberry and Windows smartphones and devices and has more than 30 million users.

“We have added 150 of our items to the database,” says Henroid. “That’s just a start for us. We expect to add 400 to 500 more by the end of the year. We’ve also already found 16 items we serve that people have added to their database.”

The app also allows users to keep a food diary and even to share the diary with others.

“Studies have shown that people more aware of what they eat find it easier to lose weight,” says Henroid. “We are looking to use this aspect of the app for nutrition counseling.”

Fitbit, according to Henroid, is “a pedometer on steroids. It is a wearable device that tracks steps taken and calories burned. It can also detect vertical movement and it measures movement intensity, so it can tell whether you are sedentary, lightly active or highly active.”

Fitbit, which date-and-time-stamps all activities, has a USB fob that allows users to upload data onto their computer, and Bluetooth functionality allows this to be done automatically to a computer or smartphone.

“A unique feature is that Fitbit activity data can be linked to MyFitnessPal food intake to give users an idea of the amount of food consumed and calories burned,” Henroid adds. “In addition to this, each company’s application can link to a variety of other applications to give customers more choices.

“We’re not going to stop with MyFitnessPal,” he says. “We’re looking at other programs, applications and other ways to improve on what we have.

“Our department has already done many things to inform our customers about our food selections including nutritional information on packages, signs, digital menu boards and even receipts,” Henroid explains. “This takes the Smart Choice program a step further. It reinvigorates the program by getting people to rethink their diets. I sit on our wellness committee and run a wellness clinic, and one thing I’ve learned is that tracking food has always been an issue for most people. With these enhancements, now they can.”