If it seems like more and more kids these days are dealing with life-threatening food allergies, it's not all in your head. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between 4 to 6 percent of kids in the United States are affected by them. And that number has increased a significant 18 percent between 1997 and 2007.
The brand-new app, which identifies food allergens, just won top billing in the Verizon Foundation's Verizon Innovative App Challenge. And it's easy to see why. The impressive "Chow Checker" allows users to create a profile and select up to 12 allergens they need to steer clear of. They then scan their food's barcode or search for it in the app, which in turn identifies any known allergens in the ingredients ... and voilà! Chow Checker tells the user whether or not a food is safe to eat.
For someone like 13-year-old Samantha Hinton, one of the app's creators who suffers from a deadly peanut allergy, the Chow Checker is literally a life-saver, which is why she's so proud to see her idea become a reality.
"I think it's absolutely fantastic, and it'll be a perfect kind of "easy way out" for me," she told ABC News. "I can just plug in the stuff to my phone and it can tell me easily whether or not I can eat it."
Her teammate Alex Mielens also weighed in on why he and his friends thought the app was so important. "We knew that allergies were a pretty big problem," he said. "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 8th graders pitched their app idea just last year, and after it was selected, they were given the amazing chance to work with experts at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab. Fast-forward a year later, and it's now available for download on Google Play.
Part of the app's accuracy comes from all the ingredient data it pulls from Nutritionix, a company with a massive database of more than 300,000 foods—and counting.
"We liked the idea that [Chow Checker] was solving for this big issue around finding what the ingredients are on foods that you purchase all the time and providing that instant information back to the user of the app," said Justina Nixon-Saintil, head of Verizon's education programs. "We thought that was very original."