Massive Ideas for Health Innovation: How would you use data to improve health in your community?


“If you could do/build anything, what is one way that you would make use of data to improve health in your community?”

That was the question posed at the recently concluded Massive Health + Massive Ideas for Health Innovation Contest. Organized by the good people at DC Health Innovation Week, we were impressed and very much inspired by the array of answers that came in.

We thought we’d share a few snippets, but see the full list here:

“I’d like to make use of location data, and push little health challenges to participants at particular locations”

“Integrate a map of my neighborhood, any neighborhood with calories burned by activity such that I can see if I travel from point A to point B by walking, pushing a stroller or riding a bike, I will burn so many calories. The map, or app applied to a map, can also show negative impacts if travel is done by car – calories NOT burned and carbon added to the environment.”

“I’d take data from the We Eat in America (WWEIA), NHANES and US Census Current Population Survey datasets and create a series of “Hot Spot” maps – showing counties with the lowest fruit & vegetable intakes, with the highest incidence of obesity, highest periodontal disease, lowest occurrence of vaccinations, etc. I’d overlay it on neighborhood maps, showing the density of various categories of health, food & fitness businesses & services – flagging areas with poor access to low-cost/free space for physical activity, little access to fresh produce, no access to low-cost vaccinations, etc.

THEN I’d overlay open/unused space.
Do we see an area nearby with critically low average veggie intake? Let’s look at food access options and figure out the reason why — then community groups can either work with existing local businesses to improve veggie promotion… or spot an open lot to start a community garden.”

"I’d like to build a data set out of the following information:
My current biometrics (typical “know your numbers” stuff)
An assessment of my health risks (do I smoke? drink? have family history?)
And use it to create a VISUAL, PREDICTIVE MODEL of my future health. To literally see … if I stay on this path, I’ll look like X and feel like Y in 10 years.”

That’s right, the possibilities are endless with data.

Congratulations to the following individuals who were randomly selected to win Massive Health t-shirts for contributing their ideas:

PF Anderson
Jessica Haufman
Bridgette Collado
Kristi Durazo
Loran Stefani
Maria Hayhow
Suzanne Grubb
Whitney Zatzkin
Joyce Lee
John Volock

Do send an email to andre AT pulseandsignal DOT com to get in touch.

We’re looking forward to DC Health Data and Innovation Week, where participants from all over the country come together to network and converse, applying useful data and ideas to transform health, and making better healthcare a reality.

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TEDMED Highlights: Here’s to the future of health and medicine

After an invigorating three and a half days of TEDMED, we’re back. Intriguing talks. Brilliant People. Amazing conversations. And we can’t rave enough about it.

Me and Ryan from Pipette/RockHealth

Here’s some great highlights.

Healthcare is a long and winding road. It takes years and billions of dollars to find that wonder drug. Yet, a large proportion of drugs still get abandoned during the clinical trial phase, when they fail to be sufficiently effective for their indication. These drugs are stored in big pharma’s freezers, and forgotten. But if all goes according to plan, finding the holy grail could be significantly sped up. Francis Collins the Director of the National Institutes of Health shared how big pharma, academics and the NIH were discussing repurposing and rescue efforts for old and new drugs. Instead of discarding drugs that don’t make it pass clinical trials, these drugs would be tested for other indications. That’s a great example of how collaboration is advancing healthcare, allowing us to grow each other’s ideas and progress at a pace we wouldn’t be able to do ourselves. We’re excited to see what’s to come.

 “The Obesity Crisis is centered around our culture, its part of our everyday lives. But to win, we have to lose”  - John Hoffman

Obesity is a huge problem today. Swelling portions, an increased intake of unhealthy, over-processed foods. It’s become part of our culture. John Hoffman, HBO’s Executive Director gave a sneak preview to their much anticipated documentary “Weight of the Nation”, exploring the crux of our obesity problem today. Watch out for its premiere on May 14th and 15th.

As we move into an era of the Quantified Self, sophisticated technology is allowing us to collect better data so we can know ourselves even better than before. Meet Biostamp. Goodbye painful needles and clunky sensing devices. Hello sleek sexy smart-sensing skin. mc10's David Icke revealed how a thin, flexible seamless water-proof microelectronic device could record much better data in a way less invasive way. I hear they’ll be launching in the sports market first, and not healthcare per se. But still, it’s a glimpse of our future to come.

“Imagine owning and sharing our health data like how we share our lives on social networks.” - Dr Leslie Saxon.

The intersection between healthcare and technology was further explored when Dr Leslie Saxon shared her vision for how the Internet could change medicine.

And that’s what she’s working towards at the USC Center For Body Computing. Together with her colleagues, she’s analyzed data from devices in more than 200,000 patients. By inputting this data and sharing them with healthcare professionals in the network, people are living longer. Diagnosing acute cardiac ischemia in a Nigerian gentleman in Mumbai from her home in Los Angeles by reviewing a 30-second ECG collected on an iPhone. That’s right. Just another example of leveraging expertise across the world. They’re using every day mobile phones to increase the health information flow and to create “Big Data” life analytics. It’ll allow us to study life patterns, identify disease, solve endemic health problems and most importantly give us more control over our health. Check out their project which aims to build a platform to bridge the digital divide and connect more than 5 billion mobile phones in the world to the health ecosystem.



At Massive Health, we’re all about the power of big data. Our recent infographic drew some interesting trends and observations from the 7.68 million ratings of half a million foods by Eatery users from over 50 countries over a span of 5 months. Real data, collected from the real lives of people. We know that data is frozen knowledge, and useless unless we do something about it. That’s why we’re ardent supporters of the Data Health Initiative. The Data Health Initiative, as Todd Park, Chief Technology Officer of the United States shared, takes vast reservoirs of data in health, liberating it to people in the technology industry.


“We need to harness the power of data technology innovation to increase the returns for the people”- Todd Park, CTO.

Here’s to the future of health and medicine.

Till next year!

P.S. More TEDMED Photos here


“Data is ten times more powerful than algorithms.” – Peter Norvig1

The CDC says that today more than ⅓ of people are obese2. United Health predicts that 52% of Americans will be either diabetic or prediabetic by 20203. The interventions used to combat this crisis aren’t working. Meaningful large-scale data about how people eat in the real world is hard to come by: a ten thousand person study is often prohibitively expensive to run and the data is often collected using faulty after-the-fact questionnaires. Yet, it is that very data that we need to enable us to combat the crisis.

Today, we are happy to release the results of analyzing real-world eating of hundreds of thousands of people. And, to please your pixels, we’ve done it in infographic form. The data gives a never-before seen look into how people really eat.

The data was obtained from over 7.68 million food ratings of half-a-million foods by Eatery users from over 50 countries over a span of 5 months. As far as we know, this kind of data has never been available at this scale before. Did you know that San Francisco eats 4 times the amount of brussels sprouts as the rest of the US? Or that picking any specific diet (it doesn’t matter which) will, on average, improve your eating by roughly 20%? Or that poor eating is transmitted like a virus, with a transmission rate of 34.5% among friends?

We’ve been able to glean insight into how people think they eat, how they actually eat, where people eat, what they eat, when they eat, and with whom they eat. Each infographic tells a story regarding the effects of the who, what, when, where, and how on healthy eating. Click below to read them!


A quick note on the veracity of the data. We often get asked if crowd-sourced data can be trusted. We had a gut feel that the answer was “probably yes”.

Famously, one of the most accurate ways to guess the number of jellybeans in a jar is to average the guesses of everyone in the room4. The crowd-sourced method beats much more advanced algorithms. To test our hunch that the same applied in nutrition, we looked at the aggregate Eatery scores for all meals eaten in a city versus the published obesity level in that city5. It turns out there’s a strong correlation. Eatery data can accurately predict obesity levels of cities in the United States. That is, Eatery data strongly correlates with the healthiness of its users.

Furthermore, findings from the Eatery aligns with current scientific research. For example, the influence rate of food choices by friends matches closely with the obesity transmission rates6 described by Christakis and Fowler. Breakfast eating findings are also in line with research conducted on the effects of breakfast eating—that people who eat breakfast tend to eat smaller portions7,8,9,10,11 and healthier food throughout the day12,13. Additionally, as expected, controversial foods, such as coffee, diet soda, orange juice, and bacon are flagged with higher standard deviations from user ratings on the Eatery.


If you are affiliated with a University and would like to use our anonymized data for research, please contact sylvia [at] massivehealth [dot] com.


  1. Norvig, P. “The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Data.” Internet:, Oct 11 2011 [Apr 19 2012].
  2. “Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Internet:, Oct 17, 2011 [Apr 18, 2012].
  3. “The United States of Diabetes: New Report Shows Half the Country Could Have Diabetes or Prediabetes at a cost of $3.35 Trillion by 2020.” UnitedHealth Group.  Internet:, Nov 23, 2012 [Apr 18, 2012].
  4. Sunstein, CR.  Group Judgements: Deliberation, Statistical Means, and Information Markets.  U Chicago Law & Economics, Olin Working Paper No 219; U Chicago Public Law Working Paper No. 72. Aug 2004.
  5. Christakis NA, Fowler JH. The Spread of Obesity in a Large Social Network over 32 Years. N Engl J Med. 2007; 357-370-9.
  6. Clark CA, Gardiner J, McBurney MI, Anderson S, Weatherspoon LJ, Henry DN, Hord NG. Effects of breakfast meal composition on second meal metabolic responses in adults with type 2 diabetes mellitus. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2006;60:1122–9.
  7. Liljeberg HG, Akerberg AK, Bjorck IM. Effect of the glycemic index and content of indigestible carbohydrates of cereal-based breakfast meals on glucose tolerance at lunch in healthy subjects. Am J Clin Nutr. 1999;69:647–55.
  8. Nestler JE, Barlascini CO, Clore JN, Blackard WG. Absorption characteristic of breakfast determines insulin sensitivity and carbohydrate tolerance for lunch. Diabetes Care. 1988;11:755–60.
  9. Pai S, Ghugre PS, Udipi SA. Satiety from rice-based, wheat-based and rice-pulse combination preparations. Appetite. 2005;44:263–71.
  10. Pasman WJ, Blokdijk VM, Bertina FM, Hopman WP, Hendriks HF. Effect of two breakfasts, different in carbohydrate composition, on hunger and satiety and mood in healthy men. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 2003;27:663–8.
  11. Isaksson H, Sundberg B, Åman P, Fredriksson H, Olsson J. Whole grain rye porridge breakfast improves satiety compared to refined wheat bread breakfast. Food Nutr Res. 2008; 52.
  12. Levine AS, Tallman JR, Grace MK, Parker SA, Billington CJ, Levitt MD. Effect of Breakfast Cereals on Short-term Food Intake. Am J Clin Nutr. 1989;50: 1303-7.
A Tale of Two Meals: What’s Really Making You Fat [Infographic]

Breakfast’s really important to start your day right. Bacon and eggs or a bagel and cream cheese? Both tempting decisions. You opt for the less fattening option of bagel and ream cheese. But guess what? That’s what’s really making you fat.

Here are some references we used:

Hill, C. 2011. How does body absorb carbohydrates, fats and protein. Livestrong. July 10.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 2008. Your digestive system and how it works. National Digestive Diseases Information Clearing House.

Collins, A. 2012. How fat is digested. Digestion of fats (Lipids).

Collins, A. 2012. Body fat explained. Guide to body fat (Adipose tissue)

Wertheimer, E and Shapiro, B. 1948. The physiology of adipose tissue. Physiol Rev. 28(4):451-464.

Shapiro, B. and Wertheimer, E. 1943. Phosphorolysis and synthesis of glycogen in animal tissues. Biochem J. 37(3):397-403.

You may find these references useful as well.

Rogers, CD. 2011. How long to digest pasta. Livestrong.

Sisson, M. 2007. The definitive guide to insulin, blood sugar and diabetes (and you’ll understand it). Mark’s Daily Apple.

Fitday. 2011. How carbohydrate metabolism affects weight.

Knepper, M. How carbohydrates, fats, proteins and hormones work to cause weight-loss or weight-gain. Annette Nay.

TEDMED: Imagining the future of health and medicine

Imagine a congregation of one thousand two hundred brilliant thinkers coming together. Now add phenomenal speakers from every kind of background into the mix. With a multitude of perspectives, they weave a rich tapestry of invigorating conversation about the future of medicine. All amidst the background of the picturesque John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts Opera House in Washington DC. 

That’s TEDMED.

If there’s only one conference you can attend this year, this is it. And I’m thrilled to say that I’ll be there.

Besides meeting fantastic people and engaging in fresh and thought-invoking conversation with them, I’m excited to hear from a remarkably diverse group of thought leaders.

The talks all sound great, but I’m particularly psyched for these.
On The Eatery, we’ve seen how users with diverse backgrounds and eating habits debate over the healthiness of foods, exchange recipes and get each other to eat healthier. Social’s really powerful. So I’m finding the talk “Do your proteins have their own social network” by Albert-László Barabási,- Director of the Center for Complex Network Research, Northeastern University, particularly interesting. It’s funny to think of proteins having their own social network, but when we distill our basic physiology to its core, we’re really a bunch of protein interactions. He also wrote the book Bursts which explores how we can predict human behavior as its not as random as we think.

Andrew (@carmandrew) and I attended a talk by Jane McGonigal (@avantgame) several weeks back on The Power of Gaming. It definitely shed a new light on gaming for me, how gamers could come together to figure out solutions to a world crisis, or how gaming could evoke positive emotion and make one feel happier and more confident about themselves. “Why is my joystick smarter than your stethoscope” (Seth Cooper, Creative Director, Center for Game Science, University of Washington) should be an intriguing follow up to this. I’m especially looking forward to getting more insight into the application of gaming in medicine.

Another thing I’ve observed on The Eatery is how users have encouraged each other to eat healthy, less processed foods. Unfortunately, we live in a world where the cheapest foods are the most processed and unhealthy ones. Hopefully, things will improve though. I’m interested to hear Joel’s take on this, with “Can real food from real farms lead to real health” (Joel Salatin, Beyond Organic Farmer and Author).

We believe “health happens between doctor’s visits”. We have to take charge of our own health, we can’t be relying on our physician all the time. Yet, the products out there don’t allow us to do that easily right now. How can we make healthcare more consumer-friendly then? “Why don’t patients behave like consumers” (Jon Cohen, Senior Vice President, Chief Medical Officer and Director of Hospital Services, Quest Diagnostics) seems like an interesting talk to explore this topic.

Oh, and I almost forgot, but there’s even a talk by the Cookie Monster “Is ‘C’ for more than just cookie” (No, I’m not kidding).

Then there’s the other highlight; TEDMED’s Great Challenges Program. It entails groups of scientists coming together to decide on the problems that we first need to solve, and where we should focus our efforts on. During the conference, 50 knowledgeable individuals will serve as advocates for 50 different proposed challenges. TEDMED Delegates then vote on the top 20 final Great Challenges, and in the months following each year’s TEDMED, a lively national dialog is generated. Our friends from Shape Up (Rajiv Kumar) “Inventing Wellness Programs that Work” and Start Up Health (Steven Krein) “Dealing With Medical Information Overload” as well as Rock Health’s Halle Tecco (Developing Tomorrow’s Medical Leaders) will be lobbying on the ground, so do find about the great stuff they’re working on.

At Massive Health, we’re all about creating a design renaissance in healthcare. Our bodies aren’t the best feedback system and we want to fix that. We want to make beautiful products that aren’t just functional, but that people want and love to use. As part of the Massive team, its what I stand for as well. I’m also interested in how technology can be used for behavior change as well as the myriad of different initiatives and innovations working towards better healthcare for all. It’s fascinating. So come say Hi if you see me, I’d absolutely love to know what you’re up to.

Won’t be able to attend TEDMED? You can always watch TEDLIVE simulcasts. You can stream from the official website, or perhaps a nearby school will be organizing one. Even better, you’ll be able to join in the conversations by submitting questions.

Will you be at TEDMED? Leave a comment or say Hi on Twitter (@cassandra_leong) - I’d love to catch up. And I might have a few snazzy Massive Health tees around too. What are you most passionate about in the future of healthcare and medicine?