MyFitnessPal: Can health apps make you healthier?

Noah Kravitz
 from  Oakland, CA
| August 11, 2010

Some of you may know about my historical interest in fitness apps for smartphones. Others of you may know that unreliable cellular/GPS coverage in my area led me to ditch tracking my runs via cellphone in favor of a pedometer-based system that can't be undone by cloud cover and weak signal strength in the Oakland hills. Still others of you may know this is all a moot point because I broke my toe last weekend and so won't be going for a jog anytime soon, anyway (warning: Link contains some arguably gross photos of my foot).

But still, the Fitness/Health category is one genre of apps that actually makes sense to me. I can see developers making money and users feeling satisfied based on the buying and selling of apps that help you get healthier and happier with the aid of that uberconnected mobile computer you already own that has a GPS chip, music player, and some sort of desktop syncing capability built right in. You know, your smartphone.

So this week's news that MyFitnessPal was officially launching on Android caught my eye. The app is free, the iPhone/iOS version has been in Apple's Health & Fitness Top 10 since it launched last december, and both mobile apps tie into the Website-based community, which has more than one million active members. The Android app officially launched yesterday, but launched at #2 in the Market's Health category thanks to word of mouth buzz once the app was approved by Google.

MFP's secret sauce seems to be that they track diet as well as exercise, making it a one-stop-weight-drop-shop for data geeks and the many, many people who struggle with an endless cycle of weight gain/diet/weight gain but can't break through into a truly healthy, sustainable new lifestyle. The company also says that users who combine the mobile app with the Website lose roughly twice as much weight as members who only use the Web. That makes a ton of sense to me based on my experiences with RunKeeper and Runmeter - I'd often spend nearly as much time reviewing my route maps and time/distance data on the Website as I would during the actual runs, which were tracked with my smartphone.

"One-stop-weight-drop-shop." I totally just made that up x-D

From the press release:

“Studies have shown that the more consistently a person tracks calories, the more likely they are to lose weight - so we make it as easy as possible to count calories,” said Mike Lee, co-founder of MyFitnessPal. “We’ve also found that members who use both our website and our mobile apps lose 250% more weight on average than members who use just the web alone – that’s more than double the weight loss! So we’re really excited to bring MyFitnessPal to Android as well.”

I'll be honest with you: I haven't used the app in any meaningful way yet. Why? Mainly because I never follow-through with tracking calories. It's just too much work for me. Or maybe it's too scary. Or maybe I like eating too much. Or maybe I don't really need to lose the weight? I dunno. But i have checked out the Android, iOS, and Web platforms and they look solid. The apps don't do GPS-based activity tracking, but instead allow you to manually (but easily) record what you've eaten and when you've exercised. And the food database is currently over 450,000 food items.

So if you're in the market for a mobile, electronic diet and exercise tracker with a built-in social community (should you care to use it), MyFitnessPal is worth a look. If you're an Android or iOS user, that is. A BlackBerry version is "In Progress," according to the Website.

So I ask you: Do any of you have experience with health/fitness apps, on any mobile platform? What works for you? What doesn't? And what would or wouldn't you pay for? MyFitnessPal is free, but ad-supported. Some of the other apps are paid, but ad-free. Which do you prefer?  Hit us up in the comments.