UnitedHealth, WellPoint target kids' obesity under reform law

Insurers have new incentives to invest in preventive obesity counseling programs; roughly one in three children in the country is obese or overweight, and the health reform law requires insurers cover obesity screening and counseling, reported The New York Times.

Although many treatment programs already exist at hospitals or medical centers, they aren't ideal for overweight children who haven't yet developed serious conditions such as diabetes. "There's a big gap" between what's available and what's needed for children, said Gary Foster, director of the Temple University Center for Obesity Research and Education.

Because insurers must pay for child obesity services, "the market will respond" with more treatment options, Deneen Vojta, a pediatrician and UnitedHealth executive, told the Times.

UnitedHealth and WellPoint are experimenting with new approaches to address the growing childhood obesity problem. UnitedHealth's pilot program addresses overall family dynamics to help children lose weight. Partnering with YMCA of the USA and the YMCA of Greater Providence, R.I., children and their parents discuss their food- and exercise-related struggles for 16 hour-long sessions. A coordinator teaches the children and parents about healthful foods, reasons behind overeating, as well as balancing food intake with exercise. So far, 84 percent of the 155 children who completed the program lost an average 3.5 percent of their weight after six months.

WellPoint, meanwhile, is working with pediatricians to establish obesity counseling programs. The insurer trained 100 doctors in Virginia about obesity issues and linked them with local dietitians to help improve the whole family's diet. It covers four visits each to the doctor and dietitian. WellPoint is planning to expand this program to California and Wisconsin later this year, the Times noted.

To learn more:
- read the New York Times article