Amazon Taps LSU to Fight Obesity, Diabetes Using Smartphones and AI

September 20, 2022

Leading in Body Composition Assessment

Dr. Steven Heymsfield at LSU’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center is Louisiana’s only Amazon Scholar and one of the leading experts on body composition assessment in the world. He was among the first scientists to define BMI, body mass index. Now, he’s collaborating with Amazon on improving their Halo Body health and wellness tracker. More specifically, he’s helping to develop new technology that uses artificial intelligence, or AI, to measure body fat with simple smartphone photography—quickly, easily, accurately and affordably.

The reason for BMI’s success is that it’s cheap and easy to use. It’s math—a person’s weight (in kilos) divided by the square of their height (in meters). But it’s far from perfect. An obese person and a body builder can easily share the same BMI, and an elderly person can have a healthy BMI even if they’ve lost a lot of muscle. Meanwhile, most other available technologies to measure body fat are either expensive, inaccurate or expose people to radiation.

Dr. Heymsfield recently did a validation study of the new Halo Body technology in partnership with Amazon and Harvard Medical School. Although the study was limited, the new AI technology outperformed all other methods to measure body fat, except dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry, or DXA, to which it was comparable.

“I am thrilled to be working with computer vision experts on applications developed around AI that have the potential to reach many of the 2.5 billion smartphone users worldwide who previously had limited access to advanced healthcare technologies,” said Dr. Heymsfield.

AI-generated image of a female silhouette

LSU’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center, or PBRC, was tapped by Amazon to improve the body composition component of their Halo app, launched in 2020, using smartphone photography and artificial intelligence, or AI. The collaboration brings affordability and ease to the fight against obesity and diabetes, at home and in clinics. The image above was generated by AI based on keywords: infrared, body, vibrant, silhouette.


“Currently available technology to measure body composition and fat percentage in our clinics is expensive, ionizing, cumbersome or inaccurate. Meanwhile, the technology LSU Pennington’s Dr. Heymsfield is developing with Amazon is easy and inexpensive and could be used day-to-day. It will transform medical practice.”

Dr. Vivian Fonseca, professor of medicine and pharmacology and assistant dean for clinical research at Tulane University Health Sciences Center in New Orleans