UnitedHealthcare, Zamzee partner for weight loss pilot

By Jonah Comstock

Zamzee MeterLast year, UnitedHealthcare announced a partnership with Konami to bring the classroom version of its DanceDanceRevolution exergame to a pilot group of schoolchildren in Florida, Georgia, and Texas. Now UnitedHealthcare is continuing that pilot, adding a fourth school in Southern California. The company is also starting a new pilot with another big name in the kids' digital health space -- social activity tracker platform Zamzee.

"We provide health and wellbeing services for millions and millions of kids throughout the country," UnitedHealth Group VP of Innovation and R&D Nick Martin told MobiHealthNews. "So anything we can do to help get them engaged in their health -- whether it be through a program such as this, or through other health and wellness programs we offer through the employers their parents work with, or the services we offer through healthcare providers -- all of those things can make a tremendous impact on getting kids active, knowledgable, and getting them to be better caretakers of their health, better engaged."

The pilot will be rolled out in three schools among a total of 60 children and their parents, with the first, near Atlanta, Georgia, launching next week. It will be supported by the UnitedHealth Foundation and integrated into UnitedHealthcare's existing family wellness program called Join for Me.

"I think the alignment of Join For Me as one evidenced-based program and Zamzee as another evidence-based program is a great complementary experiment," Zamzee CEO Lance Henderson told MobiHealthNews. "The other thing that differentiates Zamzee in the field is that we've got this deep research about our impact, and presumably that's what matters to the healthcare payers, that what they're spending money on actually works and I think this partnership has a lot of promise to demonstrate that and be a little bit game changing at how United and others look at investing in those kinds of programs."

Join for Me is a 12-month community program geared towards helping overweight and obese 6 to 17-year-olds lose weight and reduce their risk of Type 2 diabetes. According to Henderson, Zamzee activity trackers will be given to both children and parents to help encourage movement and activity while participants are at home or school and away from the YMCA-based program. The pilot will collect data comparing kids who used Zamzee with other kids in the Join for Me program.

Henderson said UnitedHealthcare's willingness to focus not only on prevention, but also on prevention for kids, was heartening in terms of changing how the healthcare industry thinks about payment.

"People all get that it doesn't make sense to spend $2,500 on bariatric surgery for a kid when you can invest in a $30 Zamzee device that will prevent them from ever getting to that point," he said. "Our healthcare system is more than willing to pay for bariatric surgery, but finds it hard to pay for the $30 prevention device. And that's where we, as a social enterprise, are trying to move the needle. And we're very upfront as we start these pilots that that's what our interest is."

Henderson told MobiHealthNews that 2014 will be a year focused on scale for Zamzee, and one where the company will start to identify not just as a "kids tracker" company but as a family tracker company. That could involve redesigning Zamzee's hardware, or adding a mobile component, something Zamzee has historically been hesitant to do.

"While we started as a kid product, we see so many places where the engagement and the success really is at the family level," he said. "I think our mobile strategy is going to be looking at Mom's phone and how Mom's phone extends the Zamzee experience as kids go out to play or go out to work."

Henderson suggested that in the longterm -- beyond 2014 -- that family approach could even lead Zamzee into the corporate wellness space in the future.