Health IT, Patient Engagement

How can Levi’s jeans improve consumer wellness?

The information derived from Levi’s jeans could power a tool that tracks and inspires improved physical health of Americans across the country.

I grew up deep in the heart of Texas and Levi’s jeans were ubiquitous in my life. From the threadbare hand-me-downs I wore in the fields of the family farm to the Bing Crosby-inspired denim tuxedo I dreamt about for prom night, I always respected their dependable, high-quality craftsmanship. Combined with the timeless style established by that first pair of “waist overalls” in 1873, Levi’s are iconic and embraced by millions – from other icons such as Brando, Eastwood, Springsteen and Skywalker (look it up) to non-icons like yours truly.

Now as a venture capitalist, I appreciate even more the innovations and refinements that have improved the user experience and increased the addressable market for Levi’s – as in 1901 when back pockets were added and 1941 with the removal of the crotch rivet (thank you). One other change has become as iconic as the jeans themselves: the addition of the patch above the back right pocket with the two-horse logo. It clearly symbolizes the lasting strength of every pair.

Yet after thinking a bit more about that unmistakable label, it dawned on me that since as early as 1890, that patch also has loudly broadcast personal health information (PHI) by imprinting our proprietary waist and length measurements on every jean purchase! The display of the “W” and “L” seem particularly cavalier if you consider they easily plug into a formula to identify the metabolic risk factors that, say, indicate an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. To put this into perspective, the CDC Foundation, the nonprofit partner of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, recently estimated that heart disease and stroke cost America nearly $1 billion a day in medical costs and lost productivity. Kind of a big deal.

You’re probably freaking out that your PHI is TMI for everyone studying the patch on your jeans. Especially if you think they’re determining actuarial values at your expense OR you’re realizing that your jeans aren’t HIPAA compliant. But before you call Epic Systems to see if it sells a multimillion-dollar data security and encryption solution for that patch, relax. A Sharpie works just fine! Instead, redirect that energy to recognize that the information derived from these jeans (not to be confused with g-e-n-e-s), could power a tool that tracks and inspires improved physical health of Americans across the country.

Now, briefly, about the specific clinical value of the all-important “W” and “L.” A number of studies indicate that your waist-to-height ratio, or WHtR, better corresponds to metabolic risk than does your Body Mass Index and that our target waist size should be less than half our height. Returning then to the patch on our jeans, we have the “W” for waist in plain sight but need to massage the “L.” An average leg has an inseam that represents 45 percent of one’s height.

So, consider regular ex-farm boy-turned-venture capitalist, non-iconic me. I wear a Levi’s 513 W 36 L 32 jean. Simply take my inseam of 32 and divide by 45 percent to suppose that I am 71 inches tall.  Then halve my height to arrive at my target maximum waist size of 35.5 inches. Thus, I need to lose two-to-four pounds at least (as losing four-to-eight pounds equals an inch off the waistline, depending on the source) to reach a WHtR of under 0.5.

Beyond my new pursuit of outperforming the Mendoza Line of physical health that is now a WHtR of 0.5, I work with my colleagues at Oak HC/FT to support the entrepreneurs building companies that apply data-driven insights to address cost and quality issues facing healthcare systems, managed care companies, pharmaceutical manufacturers and employers.

The strategy of our sector-focused venture capital firm was set in motion when my partner Annie Lamont backed Jonathan Bush and Todd Park at athenahealth, a company that uses data to drive meaningful and measurable results for medical practices and health systems across the U.S. Todd went on to become chief technology officer of the Department of Health and Human Services, where he continued the mission by making government healthcare data available to drive systemwide improvement.

So how can Levi Strauss & Company help improve health in America? I know it prioritizes the health and well-being of its employees because it’s working with two of our companies, One Medical Group and Limeade, on such initiatives. Maybe the company can give us more than great jeans by analyzing its trove of SKU-level data that captures each jean style number (I suspect the 519, for instance, is closely correlated with a younger demographic), “W” and “L,” and combine that with point-of-sale information to identify geographic hotspots where the WHtR  is higher than 0.5. Tracking those trends over time could trigger solutions for efficiently driving the WHtR below 0.5, improving our well-being and saving billions of dollars in avoidable costs associated with metabolic risks.

Dare to dream. That’s what charges up my colleagues and me.  But we also possess decades of experience, which underscores that we need more than just vast or unique data elements – like payer claims, EMRs, genomics…or jean-omics – to bend the cost curve effectively and sustainably by preventing unnecessary downstream costs. It’s applying modern technology, specialized services and industry-specific know-how to that data that unlocks the value and makes it truly actionable for stakeholders. All of these attributes must come together to create solutions that are strong and durable – like the two-horse patch – and continuously improve clinical and administrative processes and the healthcare consumer’s experience.

Let’s not forget, though, what I’ve now coined the Blue Jeans Ratio. There always will be an important place for interesting and easily consumed information that inspires action. I’m motivated to make sure my next pair of Levi’s 513 jeans are a fine-tuned W 35 L 32.  What’s your target Blue Jeans Ratio?

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