Amazon could make a big impact in health by helping people eat better

  • Amazon has joined up with other large employers to tackle skyrocketing health care costs.
  • One option for Amazon is to work toward providing access to healthy food.
Source: Whole Foods

More than one-third of Americans are now overweight or obese, due in part to a lack of access to nutritious, affordable food. Employers are feeling the burden, as they're often the ones strapped with the skyrocketing health costs.

Some health experts say Amazon is in the perfect position to help the situation.

The company has owned Whole Foods for almost a year and is starting to mark down the price of fresh produce. It has a relationship with millions of consumers through Prime, and will increasingly know about their health conditions as food becomes a bigger part of the business.

And Amazon has expressed a clear interest in improving workers' health and bringing down costs through its partnership with J.P. Morgan and Berkshire Hathaway.

"Amazon could do one of two things when it comes to food," said Jason Langheier, CEO of Zipongo, a start-up that works with large employers to help them promote and subsidize healthy food. "There's the home run, and then there's the incremental move."

The most ambitious option, Langheier said, is for Amazon to start by developing a web-based portal for its own employees, as well as for people who work at JPMorgan and Berkshire. There the company can promote meal kits, meal plans, recipes, grocery delivery options and even subsidies on fresh groceries for people at risk or suffering from a chronic disease like hypertension or diabetes.

Amazon could then look to strike deals with health providers, insurers and employers to subsidize healthy food. The health system Geisinger is already moving in that direction — for patients, it's researching the impact of providing health meals to people with type 2 diabetes, focusing on those who are low income.

The more incremental path for Amazon could involve nudging and incentivizing consumers toward healthier food options online. That might still include some advertising and product placements to prop up revenue.

"From an employer's perspective, food is the one thing that their people will touch every day and they make purchasing decisions for their families every week," Langheier said. "And with its underbelly of e-commerce, Amazon can touch the one thing that has the greatest public health impact."