Interview with Kurbo Health: Fun, Engaging Benefits for the Whole Family

Quality health benefits programs are designed to promote healthy behaviors and lifestyles among your employees, while controlling healthcare costs for both employer and employees. But, neither of these aims should stop with your employee population. The most successful health benefits programs should connect and engage with employees’ families, helping them to improve their health and wellbeing.

That’s why at Castlight, we’ve partnered with leading digital health solutions designed for people of all ages – helping make happier, healthier families.

A leader in this field is Kurbo Health, a mobile weight management solution for the entire family. We spoke with Joanna Strober, CEO and co-founder of Kurbo, about how their program drives engagement and successful outcomes in the fight against obesity.

Could you first tell us a little bit about what Kurbo is and why you started your company?

For Kurbo, those two questions are very closely linked. Kurbo was really started out of a need in my own family. I had a son with a weight problem, and there were no resources I could find to help me that made sense for us. I worked full-time and my son had a full plate of activities so we needed something that was convenient and fit into our busy schedules. Most of the app solutions were based on calorie counting, which is terrible for kids. Then we found one program at Stanford that was geared towards kids, and great, but it required us to both show up in-person for meetings, and was very expensive. In short, my co-founder Thea Runyan and I licensed the 30-year-old Stanford Hospital program and turned it into a fun mobile app with video coaching that people can engage with anytime, and anywhere.

So how is Kurbo different from other weight loss solutions?

Well, first, we’re unique in that Kurbo is the only digital weight management solution proven to work for kids. Kurbo is also unique in our ability to truly engage the family in coaching adults, as well as kids and teens. Kurbo’s Traffic Light System is evidence-based and designed from Stanford University’s family-based behavioral counseling approach that works for adults equally well. Calorie counting is not a safe approach for encouraging children to lose weight, and recent research has shown that the Traffic Light Food System is cognitively easy and often more effective for people of all ages.

Kurbo is based on three decades of clinical research conducted by Leonard Epstein, PhD (University of Buffalo) utilizing the Traffic Light Food Classification system. Rather than keeping track of calories, participants categorize the food they eat into reds, yellows and greens. The goal is to get them to gradually shift from eating a lot of unhealthy reds–processed foods, or those with lots of fat and sugar–to more greens–fruits and vegetables–and yellows–whole grains and lean meats. The weekly meetings with a Kurbo coach via video chat are critical because they help set goals, provide tips and keep participants on track.

How do you know it works?

With Kurbo, everything is tracked because we are completely digital—the app tracks what participants are eating, how much they exercise, and their height and weight, so we can calculate BMI. For both kids and adults, we’re seeing 8 out of 10 who complete the 12-week program lose weight or lower BMI. Because the mobile app is fun and engaging, and easy and convenient to use, our engagement and completion rates are many times higher than clinic-based programs. And, because we are not a diet, but focus on changing core habits and how people think about food, the effects are long-lasting. I have to give a lot of credit to our great coaches, who are a big part of our success story. We have former Olympians, athletes, nutritionists, yoga instructors, and match them to the participant’s goals and interests so there is a real connection.

What do you see as your primary value to employers?

We are a unique benefit that delivers value to employers, employees, and their entire families. Kurbo can really make an impact on the health and happiness of employees and dependents, along with the company’s bottom line, as we know obesity can increase costs in a number of ways. For employers, our program is proven to work, and it is a lot less expensive than many of the other programs available for employers and other health plan sponsors.

Who is the target audience for Kurbo?

Our target audience is people who want to lose weight, eat healthier, or just get more energy and feel better. We have coaching for children as young as 5 through to adults. We can show some pretty dramatic results in just a few months. One family–a mom, dad, and teenage daughter–recently lost a total of 80 lbs by doing Kurbo together. This was after many years of trying a variety of traditional dieting programs and just see-sawing. But our coaches are trained to deal with a range of issues related to eating and exercise habits, such as food allergies, underweight kids, and even teenage athletes who need to learn about eating healthier so they have more energy and focus.

Do you have a hard time getting the kids to agree to be coached?

Usually not. In fact, kids actually prefer to have a coach teach them these things rather than their parent. In addition, we recently launched a Parent Coaching program where we can coach the mom and dad to create a healthier food environment at home. We also provide participants with a ton of other digital resources to help teach them better habits: recipes, meal planners, healthy snack tips, even Kurbo cookbooks, and in-app games.

What is the most positive thing anyone has ever said about your company?

We get positive feedback almost every day. It’s what inspires us. Our customers, especially these young kids, are really courageous to be making these changes in their lives that are impacting their families and others around them. We often get comments like “Kurbo has changed our kids’ lives and our family’s life.” Parents are seeing results–not just weight loss, but more energy, self-confidence, you can see it in the faces of the kids when they send us their before and after pictures. They are just happier. It’s really what keeps us going.


About Joanna Strober

Joanna Strober is founder and CEO of Kurbo, an app and personal coaching platform, based on the Stanford Pediatric weight program, to help kids, teens and adults eat healthier and lose weight.   Prior to Kurbo, Joanna spent 20 years in direct private equity and venture capital investing, working with a variety of consumer internet companies.