Kurbo is the first mobile platform aimed at helping children and teenagers eat healthier and lose weight – not by counting calories and dieting, which can be dangerous for youth – but by tracking what they eat and teaching them about portion-control and a balanced diet, said Thea Runyan, co-founder, content and coaching at Kurbo Health.
“Our plan in creating Kurbo was to create and gather behavior modification tools in an app,” which is fun to use, creates sustainable changes and can be easily scaled nationwide, Runyan told FoodNavigator-USA.
“There are so many great programs to help fight childhood obesity, but often they are isolated. So, an after school program here, a grant here, counseling here. Nothing so far has provided sweeping change or impact at a nationwide scale. And that is what we are trying to do with Kurbo – take public health best practices and combine them with technology so they are accessible and scalable to make a significant impact,” she explained.
The app, which is free and available to Apple and Android phone users, includes three main tools: a food tracker, educational games and a progress screen.
The tracker is based on a stoplight classification system that categorizes general descriptions of foods and drinks as red if they are high in calories, fat, sugar and processing and low in nutrients or benefits. Green foods are fruits and vegetables and yellow foods are products such as lean meat, Runyan said.
Users are given a “budget” of red foods so they learn to choose them wisely, rather than be expected to unrealistically abstain from them, she said. For example, children learn they can have birthday cake one night, but should skip the donut the next morning.
The creators at Kurbo Health deliberately opted not to list branded foods in the tracking tool because they did not want users to simply click boxes, Runyan said. Rather, they wanted users to internalize what they ate, how much they ate and if it is a red, yellow or green food. That way they can better identify healthy foods in the future.
The app is aimed at 8 to 18-year-olds who struggle with their weight. The idea is to help them and their parents eat reasonable amounts of healthy foods.
Optional coaching available
Kurbo Health also offers an optional coaching program with the app at a sliding subscription rate from $75 a month to $180 for three months and $240 for six months. The counseling consists of 10 minute weekly phone or video chats, personalized texts and suggestions based on the data entered.
Runyan recognizes that the cost of the counseling is out of reach for many people, which is why Kurbo Health is working with health insurers, such as Humana, and employers to cover the cost for families. It also is working with the military to provide the app and counseling to service members’ families, she said.
Before launching the app last year, the company tested it on a group of 80 children from diverse backgrounds and found that 88% of participants lowered their BMI in seven weeks. On average participants also lost 4.4 pounds and had increased confidence.
While weight loss and maintenance are components of the program, the app has safeguards built in to stop children from developing unhealthy obsessions, Runyan said. For example, parents and professionals are actively involved.
Runyan hopes to expand the app and program to more insurers and institutions in the US, where childhood obesity has declined, but is still too high with about 17% or 12.7 million 2- to 19-year-olds qualifying as obese in the past decade, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Runyan also hopes one day to take the app international.