Study: Delivering a Diabetes Prevention Program through Cable Television Programming can be Effective in Tackling Growing Public Health Crisis

June 03, 2014
  • UnitedHealth Group and Comcast study evaluated effectiveness of delivering proven clinical program through on-demand reality TV show format
  • Program contributed to clinically significant weight reduction aimed at reducing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes
  • Research published in Obesity suggests great potential for using television to help fight obesity and diabetes in a more convenient and affordable way

Research published by the peer-reviewed journal Obesity demonstrates the effectiveness of using video-on-demand (VOD) cable television programming to deliver core components of the Diabetes Prevention Program.

The Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) is an evidence-based lifestyle-modification program developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) aimed at helping people who are at risk for developing type 2 diabetes reduce their risk of developing the disease. The success of the pilot study underscores the potential for television-based health programming offered in a reality TV format to help influence the health and behavior of millions of Americans.

The article, “A Randomized Comparative Effectiveness Trial of Using Cable Television to Deliver Diabetes Prevention Programming,” discusses study results from a 12-month pilot launched in early 2012 by UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH) and Comcast Cable (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK). The study used VOD programming on Comcast’s Xfinity platform to deliver the adapted DPP in two test markets: Philadelphia, and Knoxville, Tenn. More than 300 people participated in the study, with the goal of losing 5-7 percent of their body weight. This percentage of weight loss has been clinically proven by the CDC-led National Diabetes Prevention Program to reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by almost 60 percent for individuals at risk for developing the disease. The National DPP showed that even more modest weight loss has proved to be clinically meaningful: every 2.2 pounds of weight loss translates to a 16 percent decrease in the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

The research included two strategies for delivering the DPP: one via video-on-demand cable television alone; and one in combination with Internet-based “virtual coaching” and supplemental diabetes-prevention and lifestyle-support tools. Participants in the study lost an average of 3.3 percent of their starting body weight; participants who watched more than nine episodes of the 16-episode programming were even more successful, losing an average of 4.9 percent of their starting body weight. These percentages are consistent with the results of other efforts to implement the Diabetes Prevention Program in face-to-face settings. The study also found that offering the web-based resources did not enhance the weight loss.

“Using video-on-demand cable television programming offers a promising strategy for making this proven health care intervention more broadly available in a convenient and cost-effective way,” said Deneen Vojta, M.D., senior vice president, UnitedHealth Center for Health Reform & Modernization and one of the study’s authors. “Our pilot study provides evidence that delivering the DPP through new channels has the potential to reach more people who are at-risk and meets the critical need for effective, accessible and affordable treatment to reduce the risk of developing diabetes.”

The 16-episode NOT ME VOD programming, which includes the Mid-Atlantic Emmy® Award-winning episode “Take Charge,” uses a reality TV format that follows six adults with prediabetes as they go through the DPP.

Each VOD episode features a health and wellness coach leading a class of real participants who are working to reach a healthier weight and to help reduce their risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Between each episode, study participants practiced at home the skills they learned from the program and weighed themselves using a cell-enabled scale. Study participants also had tracking assignments each week and opportunities to put what they learned into action.  

The six people featured in the reality TV programming, representing a mix of ages, races and ethnicities, lost an average of 8.1 percent of their body weight during the 16-week program, for a total of 122 pounds. The 310 VOD study participants started with an average body mass index (BMI) of 35.6, with 19 percent of the group in the overweight category (with a BMI between 25 and 29) and 81 percent in the obese category (BMI 30 or higher).

Although the UnitedHealth Group/Comcast study was designed to evaluate weight loss among the 300 viewers in just two Comcast markets, subsequent use of the VOD episodes by the broader public was striking: between May 2012 and May 2013, nearly 50,000 customers in the two cities viewed or streamed this content more than 100,000 times.

According to the CDC, more than 35 percent of U.S. adults are obese, putting them at grave risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Nearly 26 million Americans have diabetes, and another 79 million American adults are at risk for developing type 2 diabetes, according to the CDC. Diabetes cost the country an estimated $245 billion in 2012, according to the American Diabetes Association, and care for people with diabetes accounts for more than 1 in 5 health care dollars in the United States.

If current trends continue, more than half of all Americans will have diabetes or prediabetes at an annual cost of $512 billion by 2021, according to research from the UnitedHealth Center for Health Reform & Modernization.

The VOD study was designed in collaboration with Ronald T. Ackermann, M.D., MPH of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, who has been a national leader in designing different approaches to implement the Diabetes Prevention Program over the past decade.

Dr. Ackermann said, “Bringing the Diabetes Prevention Program into people’s homes via video-on-demand programming provides us with a low-cost approach to reach more and different Americans at high risk for type 2 diabetes, and help them enhance their health and quality of life in a way that is easier and more convenient for them.”

To learn more about the virtual Diabetes Prevention Program click here.

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 85 million people worldwide. For more information, visit UnitedHealth Group at

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