Speaker: Jason Langheier, MD, MPH, CEO and Founder, Zipongo: Eating Well Made Simple.
Authors: Rebecca Kelly, University of Alabama & Sheri Snow, American Cast Iron Pipe Company
Zipongo is a company offering food benefits management and nutrition counseling to large, self-insured employers and health plans. It was inspired by Dr. Jason Langheier’s work launching a pediatric weight management clinic at Boston Medical Center.
“Eating Well Made Simple:” is the tagline for Zipongo and is certainly necessary for those who are motivated, but still looking for tools and resources for healthy eating. Keeping it simple is a challenge for most; at least that is what the numbers tell us.
Dr. Langheier presented at HERO’s recent Wednesday Webinar. Citing research from Brian Wansink, Professor and Director of the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab, Dr. Langheier took us on a path of consumer behavior where adults make approximately 226 food related decisions each day. Routine choices ranging from meal planning, dining out, and the use of vending machines are resulting in unfavorable eating behaviors. Additionally, Langheier reported that over 1 in 3 U.S. adults are obese, and half with known cardiovascular risk.
Offering employees digital tools and resources, Zipongo provides employees with ways to define or refine their cooking skills, identify healthy recipes, plan weekly meals for one or for an entire family, and translate meals into grocery lists. There are other apps, online tools and resources that may do these same, cool things, but what pushes Zipongo to the next level is a built-in rewards feature as well as the Feed Me app that allows employees at places like Google and IBM to identify their preferred eating plan. The value? In a zip, cafeteria meal suggestions are presented, allowing the employee to make healthier eating selections.
Tell Me More about Healthy Eating
Dr. Langheier discussed the results of a randomized control study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2013. It showed that Spanish participants following a Mediterranean diet that was supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil or nuts, reduced the incidence of major cardiovascular events in patients with a high risk of cardiovascular disease over a 4.8-year follow-up period.
Given the 30% reduction in the prevention of cardiovascular deaths following the Mediterranean diet compared to a 25% reduction with statin drugs that was reported in a different study, Dr. Langheier asserts that food can be viewed as medicine.
Where do Employers Fit in This Equation?
Employers are always looking for ways to improve the health and well-being of their employees, and nutrition and weight loss are certainly key components. Zipongo’s healthy eating applications, tools, and resources are served up on a bed of technology for everyone with a computer or smartphone, and allow users to address these issues. Zipongo’s research suggests their tools enabled a 75% improvement in eating behaviors (more fruits, vegetables, nuts, water, fish, fiber and calcium) as well as reductions in blood pressure and weight.
The ROI of Nutrition Interventions
Dr. Langheier described how the costs and return on investment using online resources can be compared to individual counseling by a registered dietitian, citing the 2016 ACA regulations and compliance laws that mandate employee health plans and Medicare, which pay for nutrition visits for obesity. Others may follow in the footsteps of this cool start-up company, Zipongo, now in its seventh year and growing like a Whole Foods chain, because the Affordable Care Act covers obesity treatments for 5-22 visits per year.
As registered dietitians, we appreciate the value of technology as it can support meal planning. Still, in spite of the new reimbursement guidelines, few individuals are getting referred for medical nutrition counseling services. There is no one-size-fits-all answer, but for now, complementing the role of the health care professional seems to be a wonderful blend of seasoning for all.
Even though this mandate is now in place in approximately 33 states, it does not mean that there are an adequate number of health care providers or resources established to cover the need. During Dr. Terry’s polling segment, only 50% of participating employers were aware of the ACA rules related to nutrition counseling.
Whether through apps or face-to-face counseling, what all health professionals agree on is the need to focus on cost avoidance by preventing cardiovascular disease, diabetes, arthritis, and cancer. Whether through fast or slow methods, we applaud folks working together on better health and quality of life.
HERO members can view the recording of Dr. Langheier’s presentation in the HERO Resource Center. It is certain to inspire and leave you hungry for more!