Obama's Anti-Obesity Initiatives Mirror Health Plan Programs, Say Insurers

Joe Cantlupe, for HealthLeaders Media , February 4, 2010

Health plans are supporting the Obama Administration's 2011 proposed budget in areas of combating childhood obesity, initiating wellness programs, creating smoking cessation programs.

The largest allotment is $1 billion to improve children's access to healthy meals through reauthorization of the school meals program and other child nutrition programs.

The anti-obesity plan reflects what many insurers say they are trying to do.

First Lady Michelle Obama has been the key figure in the administration's efforts to combat obesity.

"The First Lady is encouraging a comprehensive, collaborative approach in the community to address childhood obesity," says Trish Hubbell, spokeswoman for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. "This is similar to the way in which [we] are tackling this problem."

"Obesity is a major contributor to such chronic diseases as cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, and certain forms of cancer, "Hubbell says. "We know that healthier lifestyles would reduce the prevalence of these diseases, reduce healthcare costs, and improve quality of life."

Elizabeth Sell, spokeswoman for Aetna, also supports the plan. "Aetna agrees wholeheartedly with Mrs. Obama that the fight against childhood obesity should be a national health priority," says Sell. "The initiatives are in alignment with many initiatives currently being supported by Aetna, particularly in the areas of creating health work sites, mobilizing the medical community, and improving the health of our communities."

In the proposed 2011 budget, the Obama administration also seeks to allot some $10 million in a federal employee workplace initiative to implement prototype wellness programs with a goal of healthcare promotion and lower healthcare costs.

"This initiative will implement prototype wellness programs in select locations that will be rigorously evaluated for their ability to produce a healthier workforce and lower healthcare costs," the budget document stated. "By encouraging the adoption of these programs, we can improve the productivity of our workforce, delay or avoid many of the complications of chronic disease, and slow medical cost growth."

In addition, the administration proposes more than $20 million for a Center for Disease Control and Prevention initiative to reduce the rates of morbidity and disability because of chronic disease in up to 10 of the largest cities. These cities will be able to incorporate the lessons learned from implementing evidence-based prevention and wellness strategies of the Recovery Act's Communities Putting Prevention to Work Initiatives. Officials of the federal Department of Health and Human Services were not available to comment on the specific plans.

Obama administration officials also announced plans to spend $954 million to help prevent smoking and tobacco use.

Overall, health plans support the efforts to "promote [disease] prevention and wellness, and encourage people to live healthier lifestyles," says Robert Zirkelbach, spokesman for America's Health Insurance Plans. "In fact, health plans have pioneered programs to promote [disease] prevention, address obesity, and help people to quit smoking."

Joe Cantlupe is a senior editor with HealthLeaders Media Online.

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