Startup’s weight-loss app gets CDC seal of approval

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Noom, a Chelsea-based company whose app helps users lose weight, is the first program to achieve full recognition for diabetes prevention from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The recognition follows a study published last year in BMJ Open Diabetes Research and Care that showed 64% of people who completed Noom’s diabetes-prevention program lost at least 5% of their body weight.

“It’s great to have the CDC put its seal of approval on our program,” said Artem Petakov, the company’s president and co-founder. “Digital care for pre-chronic conditions is new, and people are naturally skeptical. There’s now a great scientific recognition.”

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Photo: Noom
The app teaches strategies for eating healthy and exercising.

Customers pay about $60 per month for Noom, though discounts are available. The company has major deals with the Blue Cross plans in California and Colorado. Some of its deals with insurers are paid on a per-member, per-month basis, but Petakov said he prefers to set up deals whereby the company gets paid when members lose weight.

Users typically complete the Noom program in four months, with the app sending mini challenges and tracking progress along the way. Challenges include identifying one barrier to healthy eating, such as time, cost, convenience.

Because the app teaches nutrition and exercise strategies, its users tend to maintain their progress rather than falling back into old habits. Research showed that a year after completing Noom’s program, 60% of people were still at their benchmark goal.

Founded in 2008, the company has 80 employees worldwide and has raised nearly $26 million from investors. Petakov declined to share annual revenue. Its name is the word “moon” spelled backward and was selected “because the moon is calm, wise and always there for the whole world. Plus the name works in many languages,” Petakov said.

In a letter to the company this week, Ann Albright, director of the diabetes translation division at the CDC’s National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, praised the company’s sustained success in changing health behaviors.  

“It is programs like yours that are turning the tide in the fight against the epidemic of type 2 diabetes,” she wrote.

The CDC’s recognition is critical as Noom seeks to expand its global presence and raise additional financing, Petakov said.

Next year Medicare will begin paying for diabetes-prevention programs, potentially expanding the market for Noom and its competitors. About 22 million people are expected to be eligible. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services are likely to reveal how much the government will reimburse programs this summer, but based on a previous pilot, it’s expected to pay about $400 per person annually, Petakov said.

Expanding the product to help people with less disposable income will require partnerships with government health programs, he said.

“These chronic conditions are also a socioeconomic problem,” he said. “Long term, to bring it to more people, we need to work with government to get partial or full reimbursement.”

An estimated 29 million Americans have diabetes—both diagnosed and undiagnosed—and disease is on the rise among children and teenagers, according to a study published Thursday in The New England Journal of Medicine.

Noom’s mobile product, which can be used on smartphones and tablets, is available in five languages: English, German, Japanese, Korean and Spanish. Approximately 45 million users have tried the service thus far.

Other companies targeting customers who struggle with diabetes and obesity include San Francisco startup Omada Health and Weight Watchers.

Both competitors are seeking full recognition for their diabetes-prevention programs from the CDC along with local health care providers including the Asian Diabetes Center in Chinatown and Jamaica Hospital in Queens.

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Startup’s weight-loss app gets CDC seal of approval

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