American children are getting fatter.
Fitly launched its pilot program today that takes on the childhood obesity epidemic by making it easier for families to eat healthy. Parents subscribe to Fitly’s weekly healthy meal planner and choose from a list of nutritious meals. They can order their groceries through Fitly’s website, and Fitly sends the order to a nearby store. Groceries are delivered (for free) every week to a pickup location like an office, school, or recreation center.
Childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and tripled in adolescents in the past 30 years, and more than one-third of children and adolescents are overweight or obese. Obese youth are at a higher risk for cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes as well as bone and joint problems, sleep apnea, and social and psychological problems. These are alarming statistics, and yet obesity is highly preventable through healthy eating and physical activity.
Founder Anthony Ortiz was inspired to start Fitly after witnessing two of his nephews become at-risk through bad eating habits, his brother and sister-in-law struggle with their weight, and his father go through a triple bypass surgery. He wanted to make it as easy as possible for families to adopt healthy eating habits together.
Fitly also offers featuring dietitian-approved meals that promote a 50 percent plant-based diet. Parents select meals and have their groceries delivered with simple preparation instructions. All they have to do is prepare the meals.
Fitly also applies gamification techniques to make maintaining a nutritious diet more fun for kids, with weekly competitions and prizes for making healthy choices.
Fitly participated in DreamIt health accelerator and has established partnerships with Independence Blue Cross and Penn Medicine. It is also working with The Fresh Grocer, an online supermarket chain to deliver the groceries, and Ortiz said that the cost is comparable to going to a local grocery store. The pilot program will be available in the mid-Atlantic region, and the goal is to expand nationally within a couple months.
Food startups are attracting more attention from consumers, entrepreneurs, and venture capitalists as people are beginning to make better choices about what they eat and are looking for technology solutions to help them do so. VCs like Khosla Ventures, Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers and noteworthy folk such as Bill Gates and Dave McClure have called for innovation in this area. Along with Fitly, there are other startups out there like Good Eggs, Farmigo, and Relay Foods that are working on more new models for a sustainable food system.
These models can be difficult to set up and scale, however. They deal with complicated supply chains, perishable products, and every market has different retailers to work with. Plus the profit margins are often slim. But the obesity epidemic is looming larger and larger and the American population is increasingly concerned about the dangers of Monsanto and processed food. The organic, local, seasonal food movement has taken off and consumers are more interested in buying quality ingredients and eating well.
There are certainly challenges, but this is an issue that can’t be ignored.