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Google Maps calorie feature yanked out of concern for users with eating disorders

Last Updated Oct 17, 2017 at 5:20 pm EST

TORONTO – A mental health advocate says Google made the right decision to shut down a calorie count feature in its map application that critics said could be damaging to users with eating disorders.

The tech company confirmed via email Tuesday that it disabled the function Monday night due to “strong user feedback.”

Google’s experiment with presenting a calorie-burn estimate alongside walking directions drew widespread criticism on social media.

The experimental feature, which was rolled out globally, expressed calorie estimates in the form of mini cupcakes, according to a screenshots posted on Twitter. One mini cupcake was listed as equalling 110 calories.

Critics on social media complained the use of cupcakes seemed specifically targeted to women.

Mark Henick, national director of strategic initiatives at the Canadian Mental Health Association, said one of the biggest problems with the feature was that it couldn’t be turned off.

Calorie information “should be made readily available for those who want it,” he added. “But you should opt in.”

Henick said people early in recovery of an eating disorder may not be ready to have the intrusion.

“If (someone is) already calorie-conscious in a bad way, then it’s not a health promotion activity for them,” he said.

“That can really become quite a serious interruption to your life, if that’s all you can focus on.”

A person who has an eating disorder could be caught off guard, he added.

“If they’re bombarded with calorie counts everywhere they go … if they’re not ready for that, they might not have their tools, their coping mechanisms, to be able to deal with those triggers,” he said.