Rhode Island – like the nation as a whole – is facing an epidemic in childhood obesity, with severe long-term health and economic consequences.
The overweight child is going to be in the work force down the road, with a tremendous potential impact on health costs, warns Rena R. Wing, director of the Weight Control and Diabetes Research Center within the Centers for Behavioral and Preventive Medicine in Providence.
The United Health Foundation last month released a national report that found that no state had an obesity prevalence of less than 20 percent.
Identifying the problem is the first step, but the larger question remains: What are the most effective strategies to combat obesity in children and families?
Toward that end, UnitedHealthcare launched its “beta” version of a family based, pilot workplace-wellness program, JOIN, in October 2011, in partnership with Raytheon Corp., one of the region’s largest private employers, working with groups of employees in Portsmouth and in Massachusetts.
The JOIN program extends fully reimbursed wellness programs to children of employees, helping kids and teens achieve a healthy weight to combat the national epidemic in obesity. About 75 families are expected to participate in the 12-month pilot program that, if successful, will serve as a rollout for a national program in 2012, according to Tom Beauregard, executive vice president at UnitedHealthcare.
The evidence-based program builds upon an initial clinical study conducted in Rhode Island in a partnership between the YMCA of Greater Providence, UnitedHealthcare and Gary Foster, director of Temple University’s Center for Obesity Research and Education.
That clinical study, begun in January 2011, targeted children between the ages of 6 and 17 who are above the 85th percentile for body-mass index, or BMI, a measure of body fat based on height and weight. The study looked to fill a void for families who are struggling with the effects of excess weight and its consequences, according to Karen Leslie, CEO of the YMCA of Greater Providence.
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