UnitedHealthcare Launches Initiative for Medicaid Beneficiaries in New Orleans to Help Fight Childhood Obesity

October 09, 2012
  • “JOIN for ME” is an evidence-based, family-oriented wellness program
  • Proven to help children and their parents reach a healthier weight, reducing risk of physical and emotional health issues
  • JOIN for ME classes held at select Boys & Girls Clubs engage families to help youth achieve healthier weights through increased physical activity and healthier eating

UnitedHealthcare is bringing JOIN for MESM, a proven community-based, childhood obesity lifestyle-intervention program, to Medicaid beneficiaries who live in the New Orleans area.

JOIN for ME is a 12-month program that helps generally healthy children who are overweight or obese reach healthier weights and reduce the risk of many related health issues. This evidence-based program emphasizes whole-family lifestyle and behavior modification delivered in 16 weekly sessions, followed by monthly maintenance sessions for up to one year. JOIN for ME, which engages the entire family, has demonstrated promise to become a national model to meet the critical need for effective, accessible and affordable treatment for childhood obesity.

UnitedHealthcare and the Louisiana Alliance of Boys & Girls Clubs are launching JOIN for ME today at a Community Forum featuring distinguished panelists including Dr. Karen DeSalvo, City of New Orleans health commissioner and senior health policy advisor to Mayor Mitch Landrieu. The forum, which is being held at The New Orleans BioInnovation Center, is a call to action for the community to join forces to fight the childhood obesity epidemic that is taking a devastating toll on families, communities and the country.

“Children who are overweight and obese often want to lose weight, but can’t figure out how to do it,” said Dr. Ann K. Logarbo, chief medical officer, UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Louisiana. “JOIN for ME provides children with an engaging and practical solution that involves the entire family in adopting healthy eating and activity. Often, multiple members of the family lose weight by making small changes in their daily routines. We are grateful for the opportunity to partner with the Louisiana Alliance of Boys & Girls Clubs in offering JOIN for ME to the New Orleans community, and helping young people and their families improve their health and quality of life.”

Classes at the Boys & Girls Club

Enrollment is open and classes are beginning for the UnitedHealthcare JOIN for ME program at select Boys & Girls Clubs in the New Orleans area. Participating families must be enrolled in a UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Louisiana Medicaid health plan.

“Poor diet and a lack of physical activity are taking a devastating toll on the health of children in Louisiana, which has one of the highest rates of childhood obesity in the country,” said Pat Van Burkleo, president of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Southeast Louisiana and the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Baton Rouge. “We are pleased to partner with UnitedHealthcare to make JOIN for ME available to children in the New Orleans community as a first step in making this program more widely available in the state. Children who participate in JOIN for ME have the opportunity to learn healthy habits that will put them on a path to a lifetime of better health.”

The UnitedHealth Center for Health Reform & Modernization has given a $10,000 donation to the organization to help with start-up costs.

A JOIN for ME pilot with the Y of the USA and the YMCA of Greater Providence, R.I., helped participants achieve clinically significant reductions in excess weight and quality of life improvements. A report on the pilot results was published in the October issue of the peer-reviewed journal Pediatrics. To read the report, go to www.unitedhealthgroup.com/reform.

After the pilot, 10 percent fewer of the children who participated were obese. This means that if the program were scaled nationally, there is the potential to make tremendous health and economic impacts.

After six months, 84 percent of the original 155 participants in the pilot completed the full program and achieved, on average, a 3.5-percent reduction in excess 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.

A National Epidemic, Acutely Felt in Louisiana

About one-third of all American children are obese or overweight, leading to increased health risks, higher health care costs, and decreased parental productivity at work, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Obesity now affects 17 percent of all children and adolescents in the United States – nearly triple the rate from just 30 years ago – according to the CDC.

Louisiana ranks above the national average with an estimated 47.5 percent of children overweight or obese, according to “Louisiana’s Report Card on Physical Activity and Health for Children and Youth,” a 2011 report by the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in collaboration with the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals.

Weight problems often lead to more serious health consequences. Obese children are more likely to have high blood pressure, high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes, all of which are risk factors for cardiovascular disease, according to the CDC. Obese children and adolescents also have a greater risk of social and psychological problems, such as discrimination and poor self-esteem, which can continue into adulthood.[i],[ii],[iii]

Childhood obesity also represents a significant financial cost to families, communities, employers, public health programs and the health care system. A study conducted for one large employer indicated that average per capita health insurance claims costs were as high as $2,907 in 2008 for an obese child and $10,789 for a child with type 2 diabetes, which is even higher than the average claims cost for adults with type 2 diabetes ($8,844).[iv]

How JOIN for ME Works

JOIN for ME is a 12-month community-based lifestyle-improvement program that builds a network of family support for children who struggle with extra weight. Participants attend a series of 16 weekly, one-hour group classes at local Boys & Girls clubs, workplace facilities or other community locations. Participating families 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. UnitedHealthcare will offer the JOIN for ME program as part of the preventive care schedule for participants enrolled through employer-provided health insurance plans or government-sponsored Medicaid managed care plans in select markets. Different from most workplace wellness initiatives, JOIN for ME focuses on improving the health of the entire family that struggles with extra weight, underscoring the importance of social structures in lifestyle modification and behavior change.

Medicaid beneficiaries in the New Orleans area covered by UnitedHealthcare Community Plan who are interested in JOIN for ME can call 1-877-554-3755. More information about JOIN for ME can be found here.

JOIN for ME was developed by UnitedHealth Group together with a scientific advisory board, including Gary Foster, Ph.D., professor of Medicine and Public Health and director of the Center for Obesity Research and Education at Temple University.

About the Boys & Girls Clubs
For more than a century Boys & Girls Clubs has been helping kids BE GREAT, providing hope and opportunity for those who need it most. Today, the organization serves more than four million young people through Club membership and community outreach. Clubs offer members, ages 6-18, a wide variety of educational, recreational, cultural and social enrichment programs focusing on three priority outcomes: increased academic success, promoting healthy lifestyles and improving citizenship and character. By enabling children to reach their full potential, Boys & Girls Clubs help produce confident, educated and responsible members of our community. Boys & Girls Clubs can be found all across the country and on U.S. military bases throughout the world, providing young people with guidance-oriented character development programs conducted by trained, professional staff.

About UnitedHealthcare
UnitedHealthcare is dedicated to helping people nationwide live healthier lives by simplifying the health care experience, meeting consumer health and wellness needs and sustaining trusted relationships with care providers. The company offers the full spectrum of health benefit programs for individuals, employers and Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries, and contracts directly with more than 650,000 physicians and care professionals and 5,000 hospitals nationwide. UnitedHealthcare serves more than 38 million people and is one of the businesses of UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH), a diversified Fortune 50 health and well-being company.

[i] Whitlock EP, Williams SB, Gold R, Smith PR, Shipman SA. Screening and interventions for childhood overweight: a summary of evidence for the US Preventive Services Task Force. Pediatrics. 2005; 116(1):e125—144.
[ii] Dietz W. Health consequences of obesity in youth: Childhood predictors of adult disease. Pediatrics 1998; 101:518—525.
[iii] Swartz MB and Puhl R. Childhood obesity: a societal problem to solve. Obesity Reviews 2003; 4(1):57—71.
[iv] Sepulveda MJ, Tait F, Zimmerman E, Edington D. Impact of childhood obesity on employers. Health Affairs 2010; 29:513-521. 

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