With Echo, Adamowicz Calls Attention to Hidden Sugars

Even in the modern, health-conscious world, sugar still slips through the cracks.

Foods deemed healthy, such as protein bars, can contain over five teaspoons of sugar—almost the entirety of a person’s recommended intake. And it doesn’t stop with protein bars, everyday snacks, refershing drinks from the soda fountian, and even prepared meals enjoyed on a busy day can contain shocking amounts of added sugars.

Laurent Adamowicz was appalled by this too—this frustration, combined with his desire to universalize nutrition education and encourage healthy eating, inspired him to create EChO (Eradicating Childhood Obesity).

According to Adamowicz, this not-for-profit charitable foundation focuses on using research, technology, and health education to “change people’s lives for the better by teaching them how to properly eat, and showing how this can have an impact on not just their well-being, but also the planet.”

Adamowicz was born and raised in Paris, and became interested in food at a young age, constantly cooking with his mother and grandmother.

He explored the culinary world throughout his childhood, encountering the dozens of food vendors and bakeries dispersed through his block, selling everything from fresh vegetables to delicious éclairs.

This exposure sparked his interest in food, and since then he has worked perhaps every imaginable job in the food industry, as a barista, waiter, restaurant owner, flight attendant, food-critic, executive of a major American food processing company, and then as a founder and CEO of Bon’App, the predecessor of EChO.

Bon’App, a mobile app to help with healthy eating, was created as a for-profit social enterprise just a couple of years before EChO during Adamowicz’s fellowship at Harvard University.

Following the publication of a Harvard Business Review case study, “Laurent Adamowicz and Bon’App,” however, he realized that he could make a greater social impact by creating a charitable organization, EChO, to promote this cause.

EChO now works on a number of projects throughout the Boston area. One of the organization’s most recent successes is the creation of mobile application SugarPoke, which allows users to scan their camera over a certain product and automatically see how many teaspoons of added sugar there are by using augmented reality technology.

The inspiration for the application comes from Adamowicz’s frustration with the misleading labels on foods that purposely break up added sugar into numerous types of sugars to make them appear less prevalent, and as a result fall to the bottom of the ingredients list, which is written in descending order.

A box of Honey Nut Cheerios, for instance, lists nine different sugars on the label, misleading consumers to assume the breakfast they’re eating is delicious and nutritious, and free of any great number of added sugars.

Another major EChO project is a research venture right here at Boston College in collaboration with the school’s Public Health Association.

A group of 19 volunteers is working to assemble data on the added sugars in “healthy” foods in dining halls, such as yogurt and granola, as well as the added sugars in the drinks available in the vending machines.

They hope to use this data to create a vending machine version of Sugarpoke, so students can put their phone cameras to a vending machine and see how many teaspoons of sugar are in each drink, so they can make informed decisions on which beverage to choose based on its contents. Adamowicz hopes that this project will eventually lead to completely replacing the sugar-heavy drinks in the vending machines with sugar-free options such as plain water and naturally flavored water.

EChO is also working on creating a “food opera,” which will expose children to music and simultaneously educate them on proper nutrition.

The organization has created the Eureka ensemble, which consists of 42 musicians, and has found a librettist and composer to develop this production.

The premier will be next year at the Codman Square Health Center in Dorchester.

Why? The childhood obesity rate in Boston is 40 percent, a staggering statistic, especially given that the national rate is 10 points less, at about 30 percent.

As for EChO’s plans for the future, Universal Cooking and Nutrition Education (U-CANE) is its biggest upcoming project, which will work to require cooking and nutrition education in every public school in the country, starting from kindergarten and lasting throughout college. Adamowicz, who volunteers his time to teach cooking and nutrition at the Harvard Medical School, also believes that every medical school should have nutrition as a major part of their curriculum—71 percent of medical schools, however, don’t require any classes at all in this field.

Although EChO has been largely successful thus far, Adamowicz explained that raising money, staying sustainable, and funding projects is the startup’s biggest challenge.

Besides the private and public grants that EChO has received, the organization needs further donations to continue its work.

“We are always looking for new foundations to approach for donations,” Adamowicz said.

EChO is making great strides towards bringing the resources and education needed to make society healthier and certainly happier.

“The most impactful startups of the century have been created out of frustration,” Adamowicz said

Featured Image by EChO