Highmark collaborates on childhood obesity prevention project

Highmark will offer a childhood obesity prevention benefit to its members starting in 2011 in collaboration with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, a program that is expected to help about half a million children.

"Highmark has signed on to collaborate with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation's Health Care Initiative to support the goal to provide a holistic approach to the prevention, assessment and treatment of childhood obesity through multiple avenues, including health insurance offerings," said Donald R. Fischer, chief medical office at the Pittsburgh-based insurer. "Highmark's participation in this initiative is helping to remove some barriers so that our network physicians can provide the optimal healthcare and guidance needed to address obesity."

Under the program, beginning Jan. 1, 2011, Highmark members between the ages of 3 and 18 with a body mass index (BMI) in the 85th percentile or higher for their age will be automatically enrolled in the program. The benefit will provide for a minimum of four visits with their primary care physician or other healthcare provider and four visits with a registered dietician.

Highmark is the largest health insurer in Pennsylvania, serving 4.7 million members in Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

Highmark becomes the latest company to add an obesity prevention benefit in conjunction with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation. Earlier this year, Humana and consulting firm Accenture added the program to their benefits, joining Mars, Owens Corning and PepsiCo.

The alliance, a nonprofit organization founded in 2005 by the American Heart Association and the William J. Clinton Foundation, seeks to tackle childhood obesity through programs aimed at life at home, in school, in the community and via doctors' offices. Roughly one-third of all children are obese, which can lead to health problems later in life, including type 2 diabetes and heart disease. There is also evidence to suggest that overweight kids have a higher incidence of asthma.

"Without proper prevention and treatment of childhood obesity, our current generation could become the first in American history to live shorter lives than their parents," said Ginny Ehrlich, executive director of the alliance. "We applaud Highmark for making this ongoing commitment to help reverse the childhood obesity epidemic."

The program is part of the Alliance Healthcare Initiative, launched by the Alliance for a Healthier Generation in early 2009. The initiative is a collaboration of national medical associations, leading insurers and employers. Emory University has also signed on to evaluate the program to see if it is effectively addressing and improving the health of overweight kids.

“By evaluating the implementation of clinical processes and the health outcomes delivered, we will be able to determine the most effective method for clinically combating childhood obesity,” said Clyde Yancy, MD, president of the American Heart Association and chief of cardiothoracic transplantation at Baylor University Medical Center.