Insurers can play an active part in helping members change their thinking, and therefore change their lifestyles
Weight-loss programs have dismal success rates. Eleven pounds is the average weight lost after a year in a counseling-based weight-loss program. After two years, 83 percent of participants have gained back more than they lost. Complete regain is the norm after five years.
Most people are better off not going on diets at all.
What is missing is not just an individualized method of sustainable weight loss for health plan members. Health plans' customers are missing out on reduced presenteeism, reduced absenteeism, and reduced short-term and long-term disability claims.
The National Business Group on Health estimates that obesity accounts for 39 million lost work days, 239 million restricted-activity days, and 63 million physician visits. Health insurance costs related to obesity are $8 billion of the $13 billion that obesity costs U.S. companies annually.
But obesity is a personal medical problem suffered by an individual, and the only person who can solve the problem is the individual. While the financial impact of obesity is felt at the health plan level, obesity cannot be solved at the health plan level.
But there is something the health plan can do: Support success. If a health plan's weight loss program focuses on helping employees change their thinking, not just what they eat, it helps them today and it gives them a tool for tomorrow.
There are two keys to individualized, sustainable weight loss. The first is qualification: Not everyone qualifies as someone who sincerely desires to lose weight and to prevent regain. Qualified plan members are ready to change their thinking, motivated to begin a lifestyle change (not a diet), and available to do so.
The second key is a health plan actively engaged in helping qualified members, and educating plan members not yet ready for sustainable weight loss.
Sustainable weight loss is not about dieting, though dieting is the usual strategy of weight- loss programs. It is about consistency: consistency about what, with whom, how, and when you eat; consistent exercise; and consistent care of your body.
Each person's goals, family, and schedule are the keys to success. So is the skill of those people who have kept weight off for years, such as those in the National Weight Control Registry.
Though using these ideas is logical, it takes a health plan tired of seeing its money wasted on usual and customary approaches to try them. It takes willingness to create a supportive environment and to use technology to expand the program's reach within an organization.
Most of all, it takes a company that believes that the time to begin addressing obesity is now.
What does your company believe?
John La Puma, MD
2417 Castillo St.
Santa Barbara, CA 93105