The reason existing obesity treatment programs consistently fall short

by | Oct 5, 2015

Obesity is a monstrous health problem — it is estimated that as many as 18 percent of all American deaths between 1986 and 2006 were a result of obesity, with anywhere between 112,000 and 300,000 Americans dying from obesity or obesity-related illnesses each year. Many attempts have been made to manage the disease through weight loss and wellness programs, prescription obesity medications, and high-cost bariatric surgeries. Even with these interventions, obesity rates remain stubbornly high with growth trending upward. 80 percent of people who have lost weight regain some or all of the weight within a year and obesity-related conditions including heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes are some of the leading causes of preventable death.

Aside from the staggering human cost, obesity is exacting an enormous economic toll. It has a global economic impact of approximately $2 trillion, or 2.8 percent of global GDP — and in the U.S. the cost is an estimated $300 billion annually. By 2030, with the adult obesity rate predicted to reach 50 percent of the population, costs could rise by $48 to $66 billion per year in the U.S.

Why health interventions fail
Traditional obesity treatments have proven ineffective and a panacea has yet to be discovered. At Noom, we think the frustrating lack of breakthrough is a direct result of an ingrained mindset — one which approaches obesity and obesity-related chronic conditions as population-based disease states, rather than what they truly are: behavioral problems faced at a very individual level.

To make real inroads against this goliath, we need to effectively support individuals — with all of their imperfections, waxing and waning levels of motivation, and specific impediments — as they work to adopt healthier behaviors in a totally uncontrolled (and uncontrollable) environment.

Reacting Isn’t Enough
Traditional obesity interventions take an information-based approach which, because of its static nature, is unable to quickly adapt to the needs of users. Information can be helpful – after all one has to know what steps are required to get healthy. However, in our modern world of ubiquitous and unlimited cheap eats, individuals are surrounded by temptations 24/7, and for too many, knowing what to do does not always translate to action. It is in this sphere, between knowing what to do and actually doing it, that providing support is essential.

Delivering this kind of support requires being able to anticipate when a user will falter and intervene at that precise moment. Because of the individual nature of any wellness journey, this type of prediction can be difficult. While mid-afternoon crunch time in the office may lead one person to reach for a box of Krispy Kremes, a call from an in law may be the trigger for someone else.

Currently, most high-touch in-person obesity interventions consist of weekly meetings between coaches and patients, which, in the world of chronic disease and behavior change, is a lifetime. This weekly cadence inhibits coaches from experiencing the user’s journey as it happens, only able to react to a user’s situation after the fact.

The Path to Breakthrough: Anticipatory Coaching
While high-touch mobile apps do exist, enabling users to keep in touch with coaches virtually 24/7, they too lack the ability to anticipate a user’s triggers. Noom’s behavior change technology is able to predict when a user is most in need by monitoring behavior signals in real time, surfacing individual and population-wide patterns. If a particular user always eats poorly at a work function, our coaches will be armed with this information and can step in with an encouraging word, helping to change behaviors instantaneously.

It is impossible to predict what each individual will be faced with when embarking on a behavior change journey but there is one variable that will always remain unchanged: users will face challenges along the way, and it is vital that a coach anticipate these setbacks. In order to truly drive behavior change, a program must treat each user’s journey as unique and provide a portfolio of tools to close the gap between knowing and doing.