A new Google feature that may have seemed sweet quickly turned sour.
Google Maps recently tested a feature that showed users how many calories they could burn if they walked a route instead of driving it. To illustrate those calories, the app said how many mini-cupcakes a person would burn during the jaunt.
“This walk burns around 313 Calories — that’s almost 3 mini cupcakes,” said a message within the app’s walking directions, CNN reported.
Now, the tech giant is pulling the feature along with its pink cartoon cupcakes, citing strong customer feedback, according to TechCrunch.
The feature, which was experimental, was never publicly announced. It merely appeared on the Google Maps app for some iOS users last week, to the delight of many who said it could help promote a healthier lifestyle.
— Eugene Borukhovich (@HealthEugene) October 15, 2017
Many, though, expressed outrage, claiming the feature could be a trigger for the estimated 30 million Americans with eating disorders, pointing out that compulsive calorie counting is a warning sign of some disorders such as anorexia. Others said the feature made them feel unfairly judged or shamed.
It did not appear that the option could be turned off.
“I truly can’t wrap my head around how thoughtless and reckless this is as an automatic feature!! Especially with no intuitive way to opt out,” tweeted one user.
— Taylor Lorenz (@TaylorLorenz) October 17, 2017
“It implies that foods like cupcakes need to be burned off instead of being part of a balanced diet,” Jennifer J. Thomas, co-director of the Eating Disorders Clinical and Research Program at Massachusetts General Hospital, told Self.
The issue was further complicated by Google’s questionable measurements of both the caloric content of mini-cupcakes and the number of calories burned by walking.
Google didn’t elaborate on how it decided that mini-cupcakes were each 110 calories, especially given the calorie content of actual mini-cupcakes varies wildly. Wegmans grocery offers mini-cupcakes that are 97.5 calories each, while Canada’s Prairie Girl Bakery, for example, sells mini-cupcakes that each contain 200 calories.
Nor did the company explain how it calculated how many calories each walk burned. The app claimed the “average person” burns 90 calories per mile, but it didn’t explain what “average” meant or how it reached that amount. The number of calories one burns while walking can differ extensively depending on how fast he or she is walking and how much he or she weighs, as Harvard Medical School noted.
Some experts pointed out that, even had the numbers perfectly reflected reality, counting calories isn’t necessarily healthy — and features like this one could potentially ignite eating disorders.
“We’ve gotten into this habit of thinking about our bodies and the foods we take in and how much activity we do as this mathematical equation, and it’s really not,” Stephanie Zerwas, the clinical director of the Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders at the University of North Carolina, told the New York Times. “The more we have technology that promotes that view, the more people who may develop eating disorders might be triggered into that pathway.”
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