Madison-based startup Easy Way to Health wants to help companies improve worker health and productivity with its technology-connected app.
Renato Romani, a physician and the company’s founder and CEO, says rising rates of obesity have a “strong correlation with health care costs.” Obesity-related conditions like heart disease, diabetes and types of cancer all contribute to health care costs for employers.
His company can help with these problems, he says.
“So we are a company that builds solutions to continuously monitor health,” he said at a Madison meeting in early March of the Kauffman-sponsored entrepreneurial network 1 Million Cups. “And we are starting by tracking human weight.”
It does so by having users weigh themselves on a specially designed, Wi-Fi-connected scale. The device is sleek and white, and differs from most scales in that it doesn’t immediately show the recorded weight. Rather, it sends the data it receives on weight and body mass index to the cloud, where it can be accessed online and through the company’s mobile application.
A Wisconsin company, Rice Lake Weighing Systems, manufactured the pilot model of the scale. Future models will be leased to companies and wellness programs.
“So if we can track weight, we somehow can track the cost in health, which is one of our main goals,” he said. “So we can help people to lose weight, we can help companies to track weight loss or wellness programs, we can help health care systems to track if their, for example, wellness programs are impacting behavior change and things like that.”
In doing so, he wants to “completely change” the way people interact with scales.
“That is our original point; that is our differentiation compared to other companies that are doing this,” he said, adding there are over 165,000 health apps in the Apple Store alone.
He points to research showing that regular self-weighing is a good thing for health improvement, but tracking weight loss pound by pound can be frustrating and can actually deter people from making positive health choices.
Easy Way to Health’s app tracks oscillations in weight over time, and as users hop on the scale, the screen will show short messages recommending ways to be more health conscious that day. The app can also connect users with services like local sports coaches, fitness clubs and more, all to help them get on a path toward better health.
Rather than tracking weight in pounds on a day-to-day basis, it tracks the trend overtime. By keeping users slightly in the dark about their specific weight, the system increases the chance for weight loss, Romani says.
The system also recognizes and normalizes spikes in weight that can occur from time to time.
“I’m from Brazil, I don’t know if you know the Brazilian barbecue — we love to do that,” Romani said. “It’s a lot of salt; tomorrow, a lot of water inside your body.”
With a normal scale, health conscious people could note the drastic upward shift in weight and become disheartened. Rather than showing the numbers going up and down, it shows users on a colored scale whether they are on an upward trend, a downward trend, or in the middle.
“So it’s not a cure for obesity, but it’s a very interesting process to motivate people to track their health,” Romani said. “People need to realize they can do it, and the thing is, they are not following any diet. They are changing their behavior.”
Easy Way to Health wants to target corporate wellness budgets, an $8.1 billion market in the United States, Romani says. There are 5,655 competitor businesses that he has identified in this market already.
He says most of those businesses are limited to tracking simple data in order to hopefully reduce health care costs for the company. That’s a marked difference from Easy Way to Health, which aims to make real changes in the health of a company’s workers, leading to improved productivity.
“We know that [companies] have like probably 55 percent of people with obesity, 35 percent prediabetics, 15 percent diabetics, 22 percent with hypertension, so why you measure this?” he asked. “You need to do something — that’s our approach.”
–By Alex Moe