Programs to address child obesity emerge

Jan. 17, 2012 at 3:57 PM

PROVIDENCE, R.I., Jan. 17 (UPI) -- As part of healthcare reform, U.S. health insurers and employers must cover screening children for obesity and providing them with counseling, officials say.

One-in-three U.S. children are obese or overweight and the Affordable Care Act of 2010 calls for preventive care to screen and counsel overweight children to help reduce the rates of diabetes and heart disease.

However, many doctors are often ill-equipped to counsel on nutrition and there are few programs, other than intensive hospital-based programs, available to overweight children and their parents, The New York Times reported Tuesday.

Health insurer UnitedHealth is conducting a pilot program, aimed at changing family dynamics that foster weight gain, in partnership with the YMCA of the USA and the YMCA of Greater Providence, R.I.

During 16 sessions, which last an hour and are attended with a parent, children and teenagers talk about their struggles with food and exercise. Parents and children learn about healthier food choices, exercise and how to balance what they eat with how active they are.

Preliminary results show 84 percent of the 155 children and teens who completed the program had an average 3.5 percent reduction in weight after six months and parents lost weight as well, UnitedHealth officials said.

UnitedHealth said it is working with Texas and Louisiana to offer a similar program for children enrolled in Medicaid under the insurer's Medicaid plans.

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