Brazilian start-up aims to fight childhood obesity

Signal of change / Brazilian start-up aims to fight childhood obesity

By Alise Perepjolkina / 16 Nov 2015

A new platform in Brazil enables parents to track their children’s eating habits in school snack bars and cafeterias. The platform was developed by the company called Nutrebem and launched in 2014.

It operates through self-service totems which are currently present in 38 private schools in Brazil, reaching 38,000 students in three major cities: Rio, Sao Paulo and Belo Horizonte. At present there are 5,000 active users.

When schools sign up with Nutrebem, children receive plastic debit cards, which their parents preload with funds. Parents can specify any food allergies or other purchasing restrictions. At school students sign onto a tablet-style touch screen with a password and then choose their preferred food.

With the collected information, the company generates personalized nutritional reports for both parents and schools about students’ food choices and the percentage of nutritional offerings. The company is currently testing out a mobile phone app for students to track their own eating habits and make purchases.

The company is not removing all processed and sugary snack foods. According to Henrique Mendes, Jr., Nutrebem’s Chief Executive, students can encounter those products outside of school, thus they need to learn how to make their own healthier choices.

To date, the scheme is limited to children in private schools, however, once the success of the program is proved, the company is planning to expand to public schools. It also aims to provide schools with nutritional consulting, which will be free of charge for the first year. The hope is that schools will see the value of the analytics they offer and want to sign up in the second year.

So what?

Nutrebem is showing how digital payment systems can be used both to raise awareness of the nutritional impacts of our spending habits and even to place automated restrictions on our daily choices. Could similar mechanisms be applied to adults? Will we see banks collaborating with health insurers to issue debit cards that stop people making poor nutritional choices in supermarkets, for example?

The obesity epidemic is rapidly advancing in Brazil, with 51% of population now overweight, leading to serious health conditions. According to the latest figures released by the health ministry, around one in three children age five to nine are now deemed to be overweight, with 15% obese.  

Nutrebem offers a new way to raise awareness of daily eating habits among students and so could help to fight obesity.Yet how much of an impact will this actually have on changing the eating behaviors of children, and what further support is needed from government health programmes to fight obesity in the long-term?

Image credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture / Flickr

Sources

Forbes (27 October 2015) 'Why A Former Beer Exec Relaunched A Troubled Brazilian Food-Tech Startup To Fight Childhood Obesity'

 The Guardian (19 May 2014) 'From child hunger to obesity: Brazil's new health scourge'

What might the implications of this be? What related signals of change have you seen?

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