Someone at Google thought it would be a swell idea to launch a new feature into iPhone users’ Google Maps so that if someone asked for directions to a place that was “not far away” (by Google’s definition), they would get not just the directions they asked for, but also the number of calories they would burn (by Google’s estimation) if they walked instead.
Then, as the icing on the cake (sorry, couldn’t help myself), they decided to translate calories into… wait for it …mini-cupcakes.
There are many, many ways in which this is terrible. First of all, it’s ableist AF. Any time we suggest that “encouraging people to walk” is a good thing, while ignoring that there are plenty of people with disabilities (visible and invisible) and health issues that mean that walking may not be a good choice or may be impossible, we engage in ableism. Not just because we create a situation that explicitly leaves people out, but because we perpetuate a society that conflates performance of “health” as a measure of goodness or worthiness, but we’ll get back to that in a minute.
For those who have a predisposition to, are suffering with, or recovering from, eating disorders, this can be completely triggering. Not just calorie counting, which is bad enough, but specifically the idea of having to “earn” food through activity is a significant eating disorder red flag.
Then, of course, there’s the fact that this is total bullshit. Bodies are complicated; estimating the number of calories an individual uses to walk a mile is difficult at best. Trying to come up with a single figure that will work for everyone is impossible. Google claims “the average person burns 90 calories by walking one mile” with no information about where they got that figure. I assume that they just found a calorie chart and took the average since this calculation involves, at the very least, weight, and pace and, depending on which chart you look at, can differ by more than 90 calories based on these variables.
You would think Google would care that they are giving people completely erroneous data; they’re Google for god’s sake!
Finally, there’s the old “nobody asked you!” issue. People asked Google Maps for directions, and instead, they got information about calories and cupcakes. To make matters worse, there was no way to turn the “extra” info off and just get the direction they were looking for in the first place!
So, as is nearly always the case when we introduce diet concepts into the greater culture, we do harm with basically no benefit. Luckily, the pushback was swift and sharp:
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