A new Google Maps feature aimed at promoting a healthy lifestyle has been removed from the app after sparking backlash.
The tech company recently tested a feature that showed users how many calories they would burn walking from point A to point B, along with a note that equated those calories to mini cupcakes. For example, as Buzzfeed pointed out in one example, a four and a half mile walk would burn around 406 calories: “that’s almost 4 mini cupcakes,” the app reads, alongside a pink cupcake graphic.
The feature also included additional info about how those numbers were calculated. “The average person burns 90 Calories by walking 1 mile. To help put that into perspective, we’ve estimated how many desserts your walk would burn. One mini cupcake is around 110 Calories.”
Google began testing this feature with some iPhone users about a week ago, but not everyone was happy with it. While some welcomed it as motivation to walk rather than take a car or public transit, others accused it of being potentially harmful to those with an eating disorder, pointing out that an obsession with calorie-counting can be a warning sign. There was also no opt-out option available, forcing anyone who used the app to see the built-in feature.
"This is reinforcing behaviors that we’re trying to stop when we're treating a patient for an eating disorder," Michelle Lupkin, Ph.D., clinical director of the Eating Disorders Program at Montefiore Medical Center, tells SELF. And, according to Jennifer J. Thomas, Ph.D., codirector of the Eating Disorders Clinical and Research Program at Massachusetts General Hospital, using exercise as a way to compensate for calories consumed is a hallmark of eating disorders, including anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, SELF reports.
In addition to the potentially harmful side effects of the feature, as the Washington Post points out, Google’s measurements of both calories burned and calories per cupcake were questionable. People burn calories at differing rates depending on a number of factors, such as weight and speed at which they’re walking, as Harvard Medical School notes. Plus, for example, a mini cupcake sold at Wegman’s grocery store contains 97.5 calories, while Canada’s Prairie Girl Bakery sells a variety with 200 calories each.
Google confirmed to TechCrunch Tuesday they would be removing the feature “based on strong user feedback.”
If you or a loved one are suffering with an eating disorder and in need of support, resources or treatment options, contact the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at (800) 931-2237.