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New Initiative Looks to Combat Childhood Obesity

By Lindsey Getz

With more than one third of U.S. children considered to be overweight or obese, many wonder what steps the nation is taking to address this statistic. In February, officials from the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, a joint effort of the William J. Clinton Foundation and the American Heart Association, announced an initiative designed to give children better access to the care they need to fight this epidemic. Under this plan, participating health insurers will reimburse a minimum of four visits to an RD or doctor for childhood obesity preventative care.
“In coming together, we are acknowledging that obesity is an epidemic among children and not likely to get better unless there is a true call to action,” says Keith-Thomas Ayoob, EdD, RD, FADA, an associate clinical professor in the department of pediatrics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, who participated in the media event to kick off this effort. “Most insurers don’t cover visits to a dietitian for childhood obesity, despite the fact that it’s the biggest health problem we’re facing. Insurers will pay for medication to keep cholesterol down or pay for a bypass—complications that arise from obesity later in life—but they won’t pay for the prevention. It’s ironic because when you see a child who is obese, it’s just a preview of what the coming attractions will be.”
Several health insurers are already a part of this effort, including Aetna, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, and WellPoint. And large corporations have also joined, including PepsiCo, Owens Corning, and Paychex, by offering these benefits to their employees’ children. The hope is that more will get on board as successes are demonstrated.
This plan will also make RDs more visible within the medical community by broadcasting that dietitians have the power to help fight the childhood obesity epidemic. “Every RD providing nutrition services in private practice or in facilities who become a third party plan provider is building visibility and accessibility to the millions of people in need of our services,” says Linda Arpino, MA, RD, CDN, president and CEO of Life Focus Nutrition Centers and Linda Arpino & Associates, Inc. “We will make it known that we are the experts and can act independently but in support of MD services. We can reduce healthcare costs with effective treatment before complications even begin.”
Organizers believe that the initiative will provide these new benefits to approximately 1 million children within just one year of action and more than 6 million in the next three years. “Any RD who will be seeing children should be keeping good records so that we can track the outcome of their efforts,” says Ayoob. “The challenge will be getting results in just four visits, but we need to be able to show this actually works. This is at least a good start for children who may have never seen a dietitian or had any help with their weight in the past.”

— Lindsey Getz is a freelance writer based in Royersford, Pa.