Kurbo Health was founded in 2013 to create a scalable, mobile solution to help children, teenagers and their families eat healthier and lose weight. With 1/3 of all children in the United States overweight or obese, there is a need for a cost effective solution that effectively helps these children reduce their weight and maintain this weight loss.
The health risks of an obese child are numerous and serious. Obese youth are more likely to have risk factors for cardiovascular disease such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure. They are more likely to have pre-diabetes and type II diabetes. They are also at greater risk for bone and joint problems, sleep apnea, and social and psychological problems such as stigmatization and poor self-esteem.
The Kurbo program aids children and their families to learn healthy eating habits and lose weight through the use of an intelligent mobile app and weekly coaching sessions. Using the Kurbo app, families track their food and exercise as well as engage with fun games, challenges and videos to learn nutrition. Importantly, the app utilizes a proven Traffic Light system to categorize foods into reds, yellows and greens. Rather than focus on calorie counting, which is neither safe nor effective for kids, the Kurbo system is based on teaching users to understand their food choices and gradually decrease the number of reds (unhealthy foods) over time.
The app’s data driven platform provides users with feedback via push notifications, text messages and emails. The app is supplemented by weekly live coaching with a Kurbo behavioral coach. Coaches check in with families for 15 minutes once a week via video, phone or text. They provide personalized recommendations, feedback, encouragement, and third party accountability.
The Kurbo program is based on years of research on pediatric weight control. The program is licensed from the Stanford Packard Pediatric Weight Control Program. At their core, both programs are structured around color based food tracking and utilize Dr. Leonard Epstein’s Traffic Light Diet, one of the most effective and well-researched programs for children.
According to most researchers, a reduction in body mass index standard deviation score (zBMI) of at least 0.25 is considered clinically significant for pediatric weight loss. At this rate, a child can reduce adiposity and improve metabolic health as seen through improved insulin sensitivity, total cholesterol / high-density lipoprotein ratio and blood pressure. Researchers concluded that interventions for childhood obesity from age 9 onward should aim to achieve a minimum 0.25 zBMI reduction for clinical efficacy.
Most pediatric weight control programs do not achieve these results. The magnitude of weight change was measured using zBMI in seven studies. The average magnitudes of zBMI change within active interventions ranged from -0.11 to -0.25 with a median of -0.13, and changes within control groups ranged from -0.02 to -0.27, with a median of -0.055. Of these studies, only two were able to meet and/or surpass the threshold of .25 zBMI points demarcating clinical significance.
The best pediatric weight control programs do meet these results. In an analysis of successful program researchers found five interventions that met clinically significant thresholds for zBMI and percent overweight. In middle childhood, one group reported clinically significant changes in magnitude of 0.33 and 0.34 zBMI points and another found an average weight change of 0.27 in a multifamily treatment. However these are expensive programs, ranging in cost from $2000 to $4500 per child, so clearly are not scalable solutions.
Kurbo had 80 children ages 8 – 17 sign up to complete the Kurbo Program between March 2014 and July 2014. Of this group, 65 completed the 3-month program. The table below summarizes the results:
Table 1: Descriptive Characteristics of Children at Baseline, End of Kurbo Program, and Change Scores (March – July 2014)
The overall mean for zBMI change was 0.26. Of this group, 90% of the children either maintained or reduced their weight. Of those who reduced their weight, 58% reduced their BMI by over 3% and 20% of these reduced their BMI by over 7%.
In addition to weight loss and BMI reduction, at the end of the Kurbo program, kids reported higher levels of self-confidence & self-esteem, improved feelings of self-control, developed a more active lifestyle, and reduced conflict between kids and parents over food and exercise.
The Kurbo program outcomes indicate that the program exceeds the minimum clinical criteria for pediatric weight loss efficacy. These outcomes are a strong indication that the Kurbo program is highly effective in helping kids lose weight sustainably and improve metabolic health.