Local partnerships cut the fat

After rising for three decades, obesity rates mostly leveled this year, according to the annual “F as in Fat” report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). But experts insist on a cautious optimism. Rates of extreme obesity have blown up by 350 percent and at least 30 percent of adult residents in 13 states are obese. The report also indicates that obesity results in more deaths than previously estimated.

The RWJF report repeatedly recommends prevention efforts at the local level to reduce obesity rates, particularly ones that build a network of partners. For ACHP member organizations, this is a familiar model. Many of our members run programs that engage communities, providers and families to confront pediatric and adult obesity.

Since 2007, UPMC Health Plan has offered family-oriented activities and educational materials as part of the National Institute of Health’s We Can! initiative. Among other community partners, the Jewish Community Center and the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh host thousands of Pittsburgh families every year for We Can! classes and events to boost physical activity and improve nutrition.

Starting this January, Independent Health will reward many of its members for putting produce in their grocery carts. As part of a deal with Tops Friendly Markets, members will receive one dollar in Tops credit for every two dollars spent on fruits and vegetables. This simple motivation keeps produce fresh in members’ stomachs and minds.

Fallon Community Health Plan (FCHP) and Group Health Cooperative of South Central Wisconsin (GHCSCW) offer similar wellness incentives. Through partnerships with local retailers, FCHP reimburses members for gym classes, weight loss programs and fitness equipment. GHCSCW members can walk comfortably in subsidized athletic shoes to the farmer’s market to pick up discounted community-supported agriculture shares.

ACHP member plans contribute critical obesity research as well, including work from Geisinger Health Plan’s interdisciplinary Obesity Institute and HealthPartnersHealthy Homes Healthy Kids series.

Obesity rates may be slowing, but our nation will remain in crisis as long as fitness and nutrition habits elude some communities. ACHP members will continue to work with local leaders and families to pinpoint where behaviors begin and strategize how to intervene.

For more information, see ACHP’s 2011 publication on pediatric obesity.

– Sophie Schwadron

  ACHP Intern