Initiative Takes Aim At Obesity In Children

Friday, February 20, 2009

A coalition of health groups and insurance companies yesterday unveiled an initiative, billed as the first of its kind, to help battle one of the nation's biggest health problems: childhood obesity.

Officials of the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, a joint effort of the American Heart Association and the William J. Clinton Foundation, said the initiative is designed to give children better access to health care to fight obesity. Participating insurance companies would pay for at least four visits to a dietitian and four visits to a physician each year to provide guidance to children and their parents on how to eat better and take other steps to reduce and control their weight.

More than one-third of children in the United States are overweight or obese, raising fears that they could constitute the first generation in recent history to have shorter life spans than their parents. One of the biggest problems many families face in fighting obesity is getting insurance companies to pay for doctor visits and other care to help deal with the problem.

BlueCross BlueShield of North Carolina and BlueCross BlueShield of Massachusetts have signed on to the initiative, along with two of the biggest insurers -- Aetna and WellPoint -- and organizers hope others will follow. Several companies, including PepsiCo, Owens Corning and Paychex have also joined, offering the benefit to children of their employees.

Organizers expect that the initiative will provide the new benefit to about 1 million children in the first year and more than 6 million within three years.

Several medical groups, including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Dietetic Association, have signed up to help monitor the program and provide expertise.

-- Rob Stein

© 2009 The Washington Post Company