UnitedHealth Group and Fort Bend Independent School District Launch “JOIN for ME” Program to Fight Childhood Obesity

February 15, 2012
  • Evidence-based wellness program emphasizes whole-family lifestyle improvement
  • Participating children can take part in an innovative program that measures the potential benefits of computer-based gaming, using Xbox® Kinect®, when combined with a weight-management program

UnitedHealth Group is collaborating with Fort Bend Independent School District (ISD) on a 12-month program designed to help kids who struggle with extra weight reach healthier weights and reduce the risk of many related health concerns.

JOIN for MESM – a first-of-its-kind community based, whole-family program to fight childhood obesity – is being offered to more than 30 families in four Fort Bend ISD elementary schools. The program is offered in conjunction with Activate for Kids, a school wellness initiative developed by UnitedHealthcare and United Health Foundation in partnership with Fort Bend ISD.

Children in the Fort Bend JOIN for ME program will also have the option to take part in an innovative program that measures the potential impact of computer-based gaming, using Xbox® Kinect®, on physical activity levels and weight outcomes when combined with a childhood weight management program.

“We are excited about the potential benefits of the JOIN for ME program for our students,” said Bob Conlon, Ph.D., director of student support services at Fort Bend ISD. “Our District School Health Advisory Council has set a goal of reducing childhood obesity in Fort Bend ISD, and JOIN for ME is a very strong component of a comprehensive effort to accomplish that goal.

“We know from research that students’ health affects their academic performance. That’s why we need to do all we can to make sure our students make healthy choices. The partnership with UnitedHealth Group has been so helpful to our efforts, especially bringing a proven program like JOIN for ME to the district,” said Conlon.

JOIN for ME engages kids who struggle with extra weight, along with their parents, in a series of group sessions to help them lose weight through healthier family food choices, increased activity and lifestyle improvement. Each session includes group support, learning practical strategies and implementing change in a family’s everyday life through a program called “Connect” “Learn” “Go!” JOIN for ME emphasizes a combination of whole-family lifestyle and behavior change delivered in 16 weekly sessions followed by monthly maintenance sessions for up to a year.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about a third of all children in the United States are obese or overweight, leading to increased health risks, higher health care costs and decreased parental productivity at work. In the Houston metropolitan area, more than 36 percent of children ages 6 to 17 are overweight. Within this population, nearly 20 percent are obese. Obesity in children raises risk factors for heart disease, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.

“Children who struggle with extra weight are often motivated to change, but they can’t do it alone. They must have the support and full involvement of their families to make healthy eating and family-lifestyle choices that include exercise,” said Deneen Vojta, M.D., senior vice president, UnitedHealth Center for Health Reform & Modernization. “JOIN for ME is fun and practical, and can easily be made available to the millions of families who struggle with childhood obesity. We look forward to supporting the launch of this program in local communities.”

JOIN for ME, was developed by UnitedHealth Group together with a scientific advisory board, including Gary Foster from Temple University. In the original proof-of-concept study, JOIN for ME partnered with the YMCA of the USA and the YMCA of Greater Providence, R.I. The study demonstrated that the combination of whole-family engagement helped participants achieve significant reductions in extra weight. After six months, 84 percent of the 155 participants completed the full program and achieved, on average, a 3.5-percent reduction in extra weight. Equally promising is that parents of participants also lost weight in the study, opening the door for new wellness models that engage the entire family.

UnitedHealth Group is currently working with community-based partners to plan the national expansion of the program, and several customers have signed on already, including the State of Texas for its Medicaid program.

About Fort Bend ISD
Fort Bend Independent School District is the seventh largest school district in the state of Texas and is located in Fort Bend County, which is part of the greater Houston southwest area. With more than 69,000 students on 74 campuses, District teachers and administrators are committed to a holistic approach in the education of each child. Fort Bend ISD’s mission is to provide an environment for each student to acquire knowledge, develop skills, and build character to lead a productive and responsible life. Recently, FBISD was honored as the only school district in the nation to be named a 2011 National District of Character. For more information, please visit our website at www.fortbendisd.com.

About UnitedHealth Group
UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH) is a diversified health and well-being company dedicated to helping people live healthier lives and making health care work better. With headquarters in Minnetonka, Minn., UnitedHealth Group offers a broad spectrum of products and services through two distinct platforms: UnitedHealthcare, which provides health care coverage and benefits services; and Optum, which provides information and technology-enabled health services. Through its businesses, UnitedHealth Group serves more than 75 million people worldwide. Visit www.unitedhealthgroup.com for more information.

XBOX and KINECT are registered trademarks of Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved. This news release is neither sponsored nor endorsed by Microsoft Corporation.

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How JOIN for ME Works

JOIN for ME is a 12-month community-based lifestyle improvement program for generally healthy children between the ages of 6 and 17 who are overweight or obese. Children and their families attend a series of 16 weekly, one-hour group classes at local Ys, workplace facilities or other community locations. Participants are introduced to evidence-based tools and strategies, as well as incentives to adopt healthier habits that lead to lifelong healthier weight. Sessions are led by a trained facilitator and cover topics such as reducing less healthy foods and drinks, getting and staying active, managing screen time, improving sleep habits, and understanding the link between moods and foods. After 16 weeks, participants are encouraged to attend monthly maintenance sessions for an additional eight months.

The JOIN for ME pilot was designed to provide affordable and accessible care in local communities, similar to UnitedHealth Group’s efforts to provide access to the evidence-based Diabetes Prevention Program that was developed from the National Diabetes Prevention Program curriculum, which helps people with prediabetes reduce their risk of developing full-blown diabetes. JOIN for ME can be offered as a workplace wellness program included in a company’s health benefit package. Different from most workplace wellness initiatives, JOIN for ME focuses on improving the health of the entire family, underscoring the importance of social structures in lifestyle modification and behavior change.

The JOIN for ME program is designed to be a covered benefit for participants enrolled through employer-provided health insurance plans or government-sponsored Medicaid managed care plans through UnitedHealthcare in select markets. This means dependents of eligible employees or beneficiaries will have access to a community-based program to help them achieve healthier weight, while the employers or plan sponsors will be supporting better health for participating families, leading to lower health care costs due to fewer doctor and hospital visits. At-risk children will be identified and referred for support through multiple channels such as primary care providers, school nurses, community health centers, school educators and the Y, as well as through UnitedHealth Group’s database and analytics tools.

JOIN for ME is one of many UnitedHealth Group programs and services that fight diabetes, prediabetes, obesity and related health problems in creative, practical ways to help improve health care quality, expand support and coverage, and help bend the cost curve. Click here for more resources.  

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