Food is what powers the human body, but it’s also the leading driver of disability and chronic disease in the world today. In fact, 86% of healthcare costs are attributed to people with 1 or more chronic disease – many of which are caused by poor diets.
When people are exposed to an overwhelming food environment riddled with advertisements and thousands of unhealthy products, they’re not able to make the best possible food decisions for themselves and their families,ultimately leading to obesity, prediabetes, diabetes, and other health challenges.
With an eye on reducing chronic disease around the world, Zipongo is on a mission to make it easy to eat well. Zipongo drives sustainable, long-term behavior change by pointing individuals to the healthy options all around them — at home, at the grocery store, at their employer’s onsite café, and in local restaurants. Through a seamless three-pronged platform that includes advice around health, cooking, and restaurants, Zipongo is working to make it easy for employers and health plans to influence better nutritional choices.
We recently sat down with Jason Langheier, CEO and Founder of Zipongo, to learn more about Zipongo’s mission. Langheier is an MD, as well as an MPH, and began work on the first versions of Zipongo when launching a pediatric weight management clinic at Boston Medical Center.
Tell us about your mission at Zipongo.
Our mission at Zipongo is to make it easy to eat well. That’s in line with our vision to reduce chronic disease around the world since diet and nutrients ition are the core drivers of disability and disease.
We’re the leading nutrition platform for enterprises in the U.S. We like to say that we are the leader of a new category– Food Benefits Management– to help employers and health plans to drive sustained engagement in healthy eating. We do that through our core product, Zipongo Engage, which is nicely integrated into Castlight. We also have a new product called Zipongo FoodScripts, which helps physicians prescribe healthy food as medicine to treat and reverse chronic conditions
What inspired you to start the company?
I was inspired to found Zipongo after my work starting the Pediatric Obesity Clinic with Boston Medical Center (BMC). When I was at BMC, I was tasked with creating the electronic medical records, but as a side project, I worked with the Chairman of Pediatrics to create a health program because 50% of the kids at BMC were overweight or obese, and we didn’t offer any services to support them.
That’s when I founded Zipongo in 2010. We set out to make it easier to eat well because fundamentally nutrition is the largest cause of death and disability in the world, as well as the driver of the chronic disease epidemic facing our world today.
How did you learn more about kids, families, and how to improve nutrition?
We started by asking kids what they liked, what grossed them out, learning what grocery stores were nearby, and what the food budget was for these families. We were able to create personalized grocery lists that were tangible – not just handouts– that the family could actually use to go out and buy. That led to much lower insulin resistance and lower BMI scores for the kids.
The question for us was how to go beyond working with 100 pre-diabetic kids, as those were the ones who had a health plan that covered our program. When we went to pediatricians, they didn’t have time and didn’t feel trained to do nutrition. However, the pediatricians did request that the solution we build didn’t have any food marketing, as marketing and advertising are what cause a lot of problems in this category. And they are right — making good food decisions is really difficult because large food companies and retailers place products at eye level in the grocery stores to tip the scales in their favor. Plus, when you find no fewer than 30,000 products in any-given grocery store, 70% of them have primary ingredients derived from corn or soy because of subsidies from the government. Which is why it is important that Zipongo changes the food environment for users.
How does the Zipongo Engage platform bring this to life?
Zipongo Engage is our core platform with proven engagement and behavior change. It empowers users to get and stay healthy by eating well at home, at work, and on the go, while empowering employers to manage population eating behavior.
From a user standpoint, Zipongo Enage is one unified experience that meets them where they are to change their food environment. Our health tools, like the NutriQuiz, highlight weak points in eating habits to help users focus on specific changes to achieve their health goals. Our cooking tools, like meal planner, shared grocery lists, online grocery ordering, deals and rewards, make it really easy to eat healthy food at home that’s also tasty, and change the food environment by avoiding advertising and temptation for impulse purchases. Our restaurant tools integrate with the onsite caféterias to help employees make smart choices at work.
We’re the most comprehensive food decision making platform in the world. Making the healthier option the easiest choice is ultimately what makes the biggest difference to our users.
How do employers and employees feel about Zipongo?
One of our very first customers was a large tech company headquartered in the San Francisco Bay Area. They had a population that was engaged with nutrition and excited to try something new. People often ask us if Zipongo works well with other populations – perhaps ones that aren’t as plugged into nutrition. The answer is yes. In fact, we’ve found that Zipongo works just as well, if not better, with these groups. Our book of business represents industry leaders across all verticals including technology, manufacturing, financial services, consumer goods, schools, and more. We also are a part of nine of the largest health plans and wellness platform providers, like Castlight.
In fact, we have an awesome case study on a woman named Theresa who worked for one of our largest clients. Theresa lost more than 60 pounds using Zipongo and reduced her hemoglobin A1c from 7.9% (diabetic) to 5.1% (any level below 5.7 is considered normal).
With Zipongo, Theresa found recipes she loved, grocery lists that kept her on track when she shopped, and articles that helped her learn how to cook and eat differently. Most importantly, she feels better. That’s why Zipongo is so powerful — it encourages people to overcome the problems in the long run – not just address them with a quick, crash dieting tool.
How have you connected with Castlight?
Nutrition is an essential element of a successful corporate wellness program, and Zipongo is pleased to partner with Castlight to connect employees with health and wellbeing programs that help them get healthy and stay healthy.
Castlight is similar to Zipongo in that both of our missions are to help people more easily navigate health challenges (whether it be eating well or health systems). Over the last year, Castlight has built an amazing partner program to address things like nutrition, sleep, mental health, and other issues. We appreciate the infrastructure Castlight has built to help us and other partners extend our reach to meet the diverse needs of diverse populations.
Castlight has always been impressive at their willingness to take on the hard challenges. Because of this, we have reached tens of thousands people and improved their food environment through Zipongo’s availability on the Castlight platform.