FPOP Event Recap: United Health Group, Confronting the Obesity Epidemic with Evidence Based Solutions and Experiments

April 3, 2012, FPOP co-hosted a presentation by Tom Beauregard of United Health Group in conjunction with Columbia Business School Healthcare Industry Association. Tom Beauregard is the Vice President of United Health Group (UHG), which is the largest provider of Medicare and Medicaid. Mr. Beauregard gave a lively talk about the research studies at UHG in relation to obesity and type II diabetes mellitus.

UHG recently conducted a trial aimed at reducing rates of childhood obesity within the patient population that UHG serves. Although the majority of obese children do not exhibit obesity related comorbidities, obesity status in these children is associated with other secondary conditions, including depression. Children who are obese are more likely to be depressed than those who are undergoing chemotherapy. Depression treatment during childhood represents a potentially reversible cost for insurance companies. UHG conducted their pilot study, the JOIN research study, in a cohort of 150 obese children and adolescents. Participants learned about “Yes foods” and “No foods”. 70% of classroom time was devoted to nutrition education, 20% to fitness activities, and 10% to social factors. Participation rate achieved was 84%. UHG and saw remarkable rates of weight loss in children and adolescents enrolled in the study. Within the 13-17 year old cohort, 65% weight loss was achieved. One interesting side effect of this study was that many parents reported losing weight as well, a beneficial side effect of changing family eating and exercise regimes at home. This innovative trial focused on utilizing community groups, school nutrition coordinators, and parental modification of the home environment to reduce obesity in children and adolescents. A primary objective of UHG is to translate the design of this study into a childhood obesity mitigation product, which can be implemented in communities throughout the country.

Mr. Beauregard also oversees other innovative trials that focus on reducing healthcare costs incurred through obesity-related complications. A major focus of UHG is to lower the conversion rates of patients from pre-diabetes status to T2DM status. Previous pilot studies have shown that men and women respond differently to different methods of lifestyle intervention. UHG found that women respond quite positively to lifestyle interventions in the form of a group setting. On average, men do not respond well to interventions delivered in the form of a group setting. In response to this, UHG is in the process of producing an on-demand, reality television style intervention. Prospective patients can sign up for the program and view the programs in the comfort of their own home. Bluetooth technology reports their weekly weigh-ins and ensures that participants are actually in the room while the program is turned on. UHG has also launched public service announcements to increase public awareness of the pre-diabetes and T2DM conditions.

We often site the hundreds of billions of healthcare dollars spent on obesity and its related conditions. Mr. Beauregard’s presentation offered insight into the innovative ways that insurance companies are trying to offset these costs by reducing rates of childhood obesity and T2DM. If these pilot programs are successful they will likely be expanded and may potentially be accessed by millions of Americans. Do you think that these community-based insurance-funded programs will be successful? Could you see yourself overseeing a program like this?