FareWell raises $8.5M for digital coaching weight loss service

By Jonah Comstock
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San Francisco-based FareWell has raised $8.5 million for an online program aimed at preventing chronic diseases by addressing obesity as a root cause. The funding comes from individual investors including David Perry, the company's cofounder and chairman.

“I watched my dad suffer his first heart attack at age 44, followed by multiple open heart surgeries before he died,” Perry said in a press release announcing the funding and the company's first pilot. “It was the kind of wake-up call that drove me to focus on my own health. ... After experiencing first-hand the effectiveness of good nutrition in controlling my own risk factors for heart disease, I wanted to help others discover a better way of eating -- one that would not only help them lose weight, but also improve health and vitality. That is the inspiration behind FareWell.”

FareWell uses a combination of digital tools, health coaching, and a dietary program based on whole plant foods to encourage healthy eating among its users. Members will receive live coaching every two weeks by video and voice chat, FareWell CEO Kevin Applebaum told MobiHealthNews in an email. They also will receive a connected weight scale that they can use to weigh in regularly -- that data goes into a dashboard visible to the member and their coaching team. 

But the crux of the program is a meal plan, designed by FareWell head of health Dr. Mark Berman, with input from advisors from the Harvard School of Public Health (Dr. David Eisenberg), Culinary Institute of America (Mark Erickson, Provost), and FareWell's whole foods chef-educator, Joanne Young. An app includes video tutorials for preparing meals, smart shopping lists, and other content meant to "develop culinary literacy", the company told us in an email. Gamified elements including challenges and rewards, as well as text reminders and goal setting, which are layered in to promote adherence to the meal plan.

“Diets don't work,” Berman said in a statement. “We’ve known this for a long time. At the same time, there is clear consensus among the experts on what does lead to a healthy lifestyle. Eating whole foods – mostly plants – is optimal for both achieving and sustaining a healthy weight, and preventing and even reversing chronic diseases. The challenge has been to bring this knowledge and support to everyone who needs it. With FareWell, we now have a platform to deliver the proven results of clinical weight management and behavioral change counseling to help more people at less cost.”

In addition to the funding, FareWell announced that it will launch a 200-person pilot of the program. The 200 participants will be broken up into a number of smaller cohorts, some of which will add blood tests for metabolic risk factors to the other elements of the program, Applebaum said.

"The pilot will help the team validate the feasibility of our approach and gather evidence supporting the efficacy of the product to help people that are overweight and motivated to lose it, change behaviors and create new habits that result in meaningful weight loss, improved food literacy, and reduced risk of disease," Applebaum wrote in a blog post.