By Soham Bhatia

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Obesity is well known epidemic. Some recent estimates have US obesity between 30-40%, not to mention that the rate of people who are overweight or obese exceeds 67%. Clearly, Americans like to eat (and not exercise).

Oscar may have a potential solution. The venture backed startup is attempting to disrupt the health care industry by not only offer cheaper plans with more coverage, but also offering 24/7 access to doctors, along with making medical records more transparent. Oscar is operating in a unique space. The medical industry is heavily regulated, with patients' health and data always on the line, but Oscar has the ability to garner trust among patients and add extensive value that they do not currently receive from health care providers/insurers. Its one stop shop model, combined with the use of technology, creates unique advantages.

Problem [People are lazy!]

Beyond just obesity, however, are humans. We are our own worst enemy! We know that the next piece of cake or bag of chips or hunk of fried meat adds no nutritional benefit, yet we don't care. Or don't we? Most obese and overweight people do care, but they feel hopeless to change their habits. Instead, they search for "magic bullet" solutions. A few work, such as gastric bypass surgery, but are cost prohibitive and only available to the privileged few. Alternatively, they attempt miracle diets. At best, they lose a large amount of weight quickly, but regain it almost as fast, sparking a cycle of self-loathing and shame.

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Hypothesis [People want to change!]

Ultimately, people do care about their health. What is missing in the health care industry is instant feedback, the cousin of instant gratification which we so often crave. Because Oscar has the ability to build out hardware (with the necessary software), along with 24/7 doctor availability, it can offer this instant feedback.

A wearable device could be created that instantly captures the nutritional content of a food that a person is about to eat, and transmits two simple pieces of data back to the user: how many years the food will subtract from the lifespan (or add!) and how many pounds it will add (or subtract!)


Granted, this would be incredibly complicated, with numerous moving parts. However, the basic technology exists. Google is working on an app that can count calories via images, and as an investor in Oscar, would be willing to share. Eventually, Oscar would have a fairly complete picture of the daily diets of users, and would be able to make more and more precise calculations about years subtracted/pounds added. It would become exponentially more effective.

The second use case would be the ability for doctors to know exactly what patients are eating, instead of having them recount "a normal day" when no such thing exists. Doctors would be able to concretely point to "the chocolate cake eaten at 1 AM on a Tuesday" to demonstrate to patients the destructive behaviors they are engaging. Oscar would even be able to proactively offer suggestions to what users will eat, as it will know when users get hungry.

The wearable itself would only transmit those two pieces of information, as it would be a free add on for buyers of Oscar's health plan. Oscar could also offer a standalone app that would run on the iWatch, Pebble, etc. This app could be monetized via location based advertising, as users would see ads of healthy restaurants around them, or coupons to use at grocery stores for healthy products.

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There are two obvious ways to measure the success of the experiment: how many pounds have users lost, and how many years have been added to their lives. Again, calculations will be fuzzy at first but will become more and more accurate. Additionally, Oscar can also measure how many additional people have signed on to health plans because of this offering. It can charge users for even more data, appealing to biohackers and their ilk.


  • How quickly do people change behavior?
  • How much time does it take for doctors to intervene, and how many times do they need to do so?
  • Do eating habits change for a few weeks, and then go back to what they once were?
  • Are people combining healthy eating with exercise?

These are only a few of the questions that would have to asked as part of a thorough evaluation. The data collected would be used holistically, as part of overall health/diet/exercise plan. It has as much to do with data as it does with psychology. Eventually, if you make something easy enough to do, people's behavior will change, but reaching this threshold is the difficult part. I believe Oscar has the resources and team to make this experiment a successful one.