How do you say “calories” in Thai? Nutrition app reads Thai food barcodes, wins hackathon

January 21, 2014


The winning team brainstorms and creates Snap n' Bite, an app that reads Thai food barcodes.

Photo: Bangkok Social Innovation Camp

  • There are free smartphone apps that play a role in helping the world’s poorest countries meet their development goals.
  • The World Bank supported a hackathon in Thailand where young professionals competed to design the best app for public health.
  • Heart disease and diabetes are among the top ten causes of death. The winning app allows Thai users to monitor their calorie, sodium, fat, and sugar intake.

BANGKOK--- While most of the world uses thousands of mobile apps for entertainment--from games to instant messaging-- there are also innovative apps that are playing an important role in helping the world's poorest countries meet their development goals. During a World Bank-supported “hackathon” in Bangkok, young professionals came together to design mobile platforms for public health.

The hackathon, called the Social Innovation Camp (SI Camp), took place in Thammasat University in November 2013. Participants prepared themselves by looking at the World Bank’s Open Data online to look for the latest health indicators. They also listened and consulted with experts from various fields.

Deputy Director Klaikong Vaidhyakarn of ChangeFusion, one of the organizers, said that health was one of the most important social challenges in Thailand.  He said that the country was facing several challenges such as cancer, an ageing society, and unequal access to health services.

“Thailand has the highest rate of smartphone usage in Southeast Asia. This is a very good opportunity to use apps to help solve problems and improve life quality. Presently, there are only a handful of such apps in Thailand,” Mr. Vaidhyakarn said.

Buntarika Sangarun, the World Bank’s Southeast Asia lead for Open Data said: “We encourage everyone to use our data, research, and reports to develop apps which can help solve social problems.” She said that SI Camp is part of the World Bank’s efforts to share its knowledge and data with the public. 

Developing apps

The team that won, comprised of Thanathat Chaiyanon, Phimphan Yoophoon and Chutika Udomsinn, designed the Snap ‘n Bite app. It’s a nutrition app that allows users to scan food product barcodes. While there are several apps that can scan food product barcodes there are none, at the moment, that can read barcodes in Thai. Snap ‘n Bite can serve as a model for app developers in other countries where most people don’t communicate in English. Smartphones have become widely available across the developing world and more people will have access to information about nutrition if barcode scanning apps have a local language feature.

Snap ‘n Bite generates the calorie, sodium, fat, and sugar content of the product based on the barcode. It can also be used to track daily food intake.

Ms. Udomsinn, citing statistics by the World Health Organization, said that heart disease, stroke, and diabetes are among the top ten causes of death worldwide. These are preventable by controlling one’s daily sugar, sodium, and fat intake.

“SI Camp Bangkok shaped Snap ‘n Bite. Our mentors, who are experienced social entrepreneurs and social innovators, helped us look through the lens of people, technology, and business. We were well-equipped in solving this tough health problem,” said Ms. Udomsinn, a software engineer.

She added: “We felt really happy and excited. Winning affirmed that we are solving a problem that really matters,”

The winning team was sent to Singapore to participate in another SI Camp. They were given the opportunity to improve on their app by being mentored by social innovation consultants, venture capitalists, and app developers from around the world.

Other winning apps from the Thailand hackathon were WeCare, an app for family members to monitor and track each other’s health information and Keela, an app that sports enthusiasts can use to find people with the same interests in their area so that they can play or exercise together.

SI Camp Bangkok was supported by the World Bank, United Nations Development Programme, and the Thai Health Promotion Foundation, Thammasat University, and ChangeFusion.