Chiara Cecchini is an Italian food entrepreneur with degrees in business administration and international management from universities in France, Russia, and Italy. Currently a Food Innovation Program fellow at the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, she studies the interaction between food, innovation, and technology and is committed to "shaping a better future for as many people as possible" while "being free to manage my life around what I love and have fun doing it." Food Tank had the opportunity to speak with Chiara about Feat, a fitness tracking technology she is developing that works with healthy food providers to provide fitness solutions for consumers.
Food Tank (FT): What is it about the food system that inspires you to think outside the box?
Chiara Cecchini (CC): Growing up in a family where high quality, local food was the norm, I never saw eating as a problem. Then, I started traveling and living in different environments and got more informed. Globally, about 1.5 billion adults are overweight and among them, 200 million men and about 300 million women are obese. It has been demonstrated that overweight and obesity represent crucial risk factors for the onset of different chronic diseases which are responsible for 60 percent of deaths worldwide.
In the richer part of the world, the main causes are quality of food, quantity of food intakes, and physical activity. The relationship between food quality and physical activity has been particularly inspiring, aiming to find the right balance between taste and health, sport and enjoyment, quality and affordability. It’s not easy. I believe there’s only one way to fix problems, and it is to act.
FT: What is Feat and how does it work?
CC: Feat gives tangibility to fitness data, rewarding physical activity with discounts on healthy food. The mobile app converts fitness data from a user's smartphone into healthy food rewards, which can be redeemed at recommended participating stores.
Every 500 steps Feat deposits one coin into your personal bank.
Feat allows you to get real value out of your healthy behavior and save money since foods are carefully selected and discounted. Feat pushes you to be more active, learn more about food and healthy eating, and pay more attention to food quality. Feat can help you discover great places to eat and provides information about stores and products.
Feat also empowers selected stores with business opportunities, promotion, and a positive brand image. It is an opportunity to create a positive, responsible, and involving loyalty program.
FT: How do you determine who is a responsible food provider?
CC: We decided to select people, not stores. We are meeting retailers personally in order to understand why she or he does their job. We look for passion, ethics, attention to ingredients' origins, and seasonality. We always want to remember the importance of our planet. We respect the composition of the eating pyramid, giving a huge space to fruits and vegetables, then grains, legumes and so on.
FT: Is technology making people more healthy or more lazy?
CC: I strongly believe technology has the power to make people more healthy. Technology can produce unbelievably meaningful data in a precise way and in an extremely short period of time. This has a double effect. We tend to let technology do what we are used to. But at the same time we can discover a lot.
There has been a wave of innovation in wearable technologies from sensors in shoes to smart bracelets. Coupled with this is a trend in big data. However what is missing is empathy, tangible rewards, and a human connection. Without this, health and fitness apps and wearable technology can become boring. We need to be involved, to see real faces, and be motivated by something more than just a notification. Feat can provide this.
FT: How can mobile technology help overcome the global obesity epidemic?
CC: The fundamental causes of the obesity epidemic are sedentary lifestyles and high-fat energy-dense diets resulting from urbanization, industrialization, and the disappearance of traditional lifestyles. In this context, physical activity trackers, food intake trackers, kcal counters, and other customized information can be crucial. Technology can link all these services with real people and real food services. Technology can entertain, make up games and challenges to create motivation, and it can link us to a network of people similar to us.
The power of technology is limitless in helping to overcome obesity, all we need is the right leverage to implement meaningful behavior changes.