Jason Langheier, a physician, knew that poor diet was a major problem in the U.S. But he also knew employers could be — and should be — be part of the solution.

“I’ve seen firsthand the immense impact that diet has on overall health — both when I launched the pediatric weight management clinic at Boston Medical Center and in my own family, as multiple family members have struggled with obesity,” Langheier says. “Employers have both the opportunity, as health plan providers and locations where many food choices are made, and the motive — lowering health costs — to take on poor nutrition in the U.S.”

Jason Langheier
Jason Langheier

That’s why he created Zipongo in 2011. Through technology, the app aims to reshape the food landscape for employees and health-plan members by presenting the healthiest options via mobile device, whether users are grocery shopping, eating in their workplace cafeteria or out at a restaurant. At home, Zipongo offers healthy recipes customized to the user’s biometric data, food allergies and preferences.

“Health costs and rates of obesity and diabetes will rise if we do not make significant progress in changing Americans’ eating habits,” says Langheier, who for his efforts has earned an EBN Benefits Technology Innovator Award, which recognizes individuals leading the digital transformation of the industry. “And since employers shoulder more than half of all U.S. health costs, the time is now to intervene for better health among [employees].”

Zipongo’s solutions are currently in use at more than 150 companies, including Google and IBM. The company offers food benefits management services as a new employee benefit, similar to pharmacy benefit management. The program includes digital nutrition coaching, diabetes management and a “step therapy” approach to prescribe healthy food as a first-line therapy before prescribing pharmaceutical drugs where medically appropriate.

Technology, Langheier says, is the smart way to help employees make behavioral changes.

“Traditional approaches to healthy eating — such as nutrition and behavioral counseling visits, traditional food tracking, dieting, walking programs and incentives — are either too costly or ineffective,” he says. “Technology allows workers to take a dietitian with them wherever they go. It also gives employers options to personalize solutions to individual workers.”

Additionally, he says, for many employees whose problems aren’t acute enough to justify expensive personal counseling, or who prefer technology-driven solutions, they “may actually see better outcomes with the support of a highly personalized app.”

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