A scale and a smartphone are all it takes.
More than 70 percent of Americans are overweight, according to the CDC, and almost everyone who is overweight expresses a desire to lose weight. Yet few achieve their goals, and even fewer maintain their ideal weight. This problem has been a focus of Dr. Kate Wolin’s – a Harvard-trained scientist with deep expertise in behavior change – for more than 15 years. Her company, ScaleDown, uses a sophisticated behavioral phenotyping engine to get people to do just one thing: weigh themselves every single day, because research shows the more frequently a person weighs, the more likely he or she is to lose weight.
ScaleDown provides, cost-effectively and at scale, what personal weight loss coaches do for those who can both afford them and manage the time commitment. Every day, ScaleDown users get text messages in response to their daily weight, based on a sophisticated algorithm that generates individualized feedback.
“The behavioral phenotyping engine is our way of personalizing that feedback without the expense and the reach challenges that coaches can raise,” Wolin said. “I will have the best intentions to show up every Tuesday for that coaching session, but then, you know, I have this work event, or my kid has a thing at school, and I miss it.”
The key to real, sustained weight loss, Wolin said, is consistency.
“Weight, like many other chronic-disease related behaviors, is something you have to be attentive to every day,” she said. “We’re not about quick weight loss. We’re about helping you lose that weight and keep it off. It’s a lifestyle change.”
“We’re not about quick weight loss. We’re about helping you lose that weight and keep it off. It’s a lifestyle change.”
And that lifestyle change has implications beyond looking and feeling better. Much of Wolin’s own research surrounds the relationship between obesity and disease, including cancer.
“A lot of people know that heart disease and cancer are the leading causes of both morbidity and mortality in the US,” she said. “But many people are unaware that obesity is a risk factor for thirteen different cancers… While we don’t collect information on people’s chronic disease profiles at ScaleDown, I hope we are shifting that risk curve for folks who haven’t been diagnosed.”
Wolin met her two co-founders Gary Bennett and Dori Steinberg when they were students at Harvard. Their impetus for building ScaleDown came from their shared interest in serving people who couldn’t easily engage with the medical system.
Today, ScaleDown serves more than 20,000 active users, and they have had more than 110,000 users since they began selling their product. Their research shows that 93 percent of ScaleDown users have experienced clinically meaningful results, which compares to 40 percent in other weight-loss programs.
“We’ve gotten great traction and had enough users come through that we’ve really been able to build a robust product,” she said. “And now it’s about finding the right partners and channels for growing the business.”
For more on Kate Wolin, see her LinkedIn and Twitter.