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Eighth-Grade Students Develop App to Mitigate Exposure to Food Allergies

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Verizon’s 2013 Innovative App Challenge winners develop “Chow Checker”—a smartphone app that identifies common food allergens

Worried about food allergies?

“Chow Checker,” is a smartphone app that will tell you if there are common allergens are in the food you’re about to order or buy at the grocery store; and it’s the brainchild of eighth-graders.

Roughly 15 million people in America suffer from food allergies, the app-makers say. The most common food allergens are cow's milk, eggs, peanuts, fish, wheat, soy, shellfish, and tree nuts. Nearly 1 in 13 children have food allergies.

Chow Checker uses the Nutritionix food database to help people with allergies steer clear of foods that could hurt them. The students came up with the idea from their school being a “peanut-free zone,” owing to the number of students that have peanut allergies.

“We knew that allergies were a pretty big problem,” team member Alex Mielens told ABC News. “We thought we could help solve that problem in our school and other places and help people who have allergies to stop from buying foods that may contain allergens.”

The student team from the Hampstead Academy, in southeastern New Hampshire, was one of the national winners of the 2013 Verizon App Challenge, a national competition to develop mobile applications that address a problem in the students’ school or community.

They presented their idea in a video, and when the Verizon Foundation declared them a winner, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab worked with them to turn the concept into a reality. You can now download the app at Google Play.

“We liked the idea that Chow Checker was solving for this big issue around finding what the ingredients are in foods that you purchase all the time, and providing that instant information back to the user of the app,” said Justina Nixon-Saintil, who oversees education programs for Verizon. “We thought that was very original.”

Dr. Jonathan Field, a pediatric allergist with St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center in New York City, said he plans to recommend Chow Checker to his patients, telling ABC News the app could be “profoundly helpful” as a resource for people with food allergies.

“It’s necessary, because we are an internet-savvy group these days, especially the target group — kids and young adults — who are more and more being diagnosed with food allergies,” Field said in an article for the news network’s website.

The Verizon App Challenge, created by the Verizon Foundation in partnership with the Technology Student Association, helps boost student engagement and interest in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM.

Each year, thousands of high-school and middle-school students use their STEM skills to design app concepts that provide real-world solutions for issues in their communities or schools.