The new health care law requires that insurance companies screen for and offer prevention measures against the obesity epidemic that affects an estimated one in three U.S. children. But implementing the law with programs that are proven successful is difficult, health care providers are saying.
Other than intensive hospital-based programs, few proven models exist for helping children and adolescents achieve and maintain a healthier weight, and researchers do not even fully understand the factors that contributed to the rapid rise in childhood obesity in recent years. "If this were easy, if there were clear outcomes for success, we would be investing in these," said Dr. Samuel R. Nussbaum, the chief medical officer for WellPoint, one of the nation's largest health insurers.
While there are many community efforts aimed at getting every child to eat better and exercise more, including Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" initiative, there is also growing demand for programs that help children who are already seriously overweight. WellPoint and the UnitedHealth Group, another large insurer, are experimenting with new approaches, and even Weight Watchers says it is working to develop a program for children and teenagers. Drug companies and medical device makers are also testing some products on children.
Adults have a difficult enough time losing weight, and the issues are even more complicated with children and teenagers, experts say. Children are still growing, and the goal of any program may be to help them grow into a healthier weight rather than to actually lose pounds. Experts also say that to be successful, programs need to focus on the family as a whole, changing what everybody eats and how much time they are all active, not sitting in front of a computer screen or television.
Image: Doctor weighing a healthy boy, via Shutterstock