Japan mobile phone app takes photos, counts calories

TOKYO (Reuters) - Dieters, take heart. A new weapon in the fight against fat is on its way: a mobile phone application that counts calories from a photograph of what’s on your plate.

While existing applications require users to type in the food and the calorie information themselves, software developed by Japan’s NTT Communications evaluates the color and shapes of food, then compares it with a database and counts the calories.

Information on about 100,000 different foods is stored on a server run by the company and can be accessed by smartphone. The application even registers portion size and adjusts the count accordingly.

“We hope this will enable people to understand the calories they eat and help them with their diets,” said a spokeswoman for the company, a subsidiary of communications giant Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corporation (NTT).

“Current diet applications require people to input a lot of information themselves. But ours does it all by taking photos, which helps people keep on using it -- and keep up their diet.”

The company, which believes the application may be the first such in the world, has been testing it in-house and will offer a free beta version from January. Reviews have been favorable but more refinement is needed, she said.

“It’s really good on things that Japanese people eat a lot of, like ramen, but not so good on stuff like Thai food. So now we’re really working to expand the database.”

Just to up the stakes a bit, the application will let friends share meal and calorie information with each other. Features planned include menu and exercise suggestions to reduce or burn off calories.

“People can see how many calories their friends have eaten, which may make them try harder,” the spokeswoman said.

“It basically helps keep people from feeling that they’re dieting completely alone.”

Japanese in general remain relatively slender, but an increasingly Western diet and sedentary life have raised interest in dieting among both men and women.

Reporting by Elaine Lies; Editing by Robert Birsel