Program helps members manage their weight

A newly diagnosed diabetic, we'll call him Mr. Smith, called in to Capital District Physicians' Health Plan Health Coach Connection because his doctor had told him he needed to undergo gastric bypass surgery if he was going to live another 10 years.

Smith was concerned and wanted to explore other options.

The health coach sent the member a decision-support video along with information on diabetes, nutrition, and healthy lifestyles. The health coach also referred the member to the health plan's Weigh 2 Be weight loss program, which provides adults with multiple resources for weight loss and healthy lifestyle choices, including interactive web-based tools to design customized weight loss plans and fitness programs, and offers community classes, and other support.

Smith decided not to have the surgery but, with the help of the multidisciplinary team at the health plan, worked on losing weight and exercising.

Health Coach Connection staff spoke to the member 11 times in eight months, offering him help with losing weight and getting his diabetes under control.

He lost 65 pounds in seven and a half months, got his blood sugar under control to the extent that he could stop taking medication for diabetes, and is scheduled for sessions with a respiratory therapist who will help him quit smoking.

"This illustrates how the various departments within our health plan collaborate, trying to keep people healthy and out of the hospital," says Mary Ann Roberts, RN, health educator for the Albany, NY-based health plan.

Nurses, dieticians, respiratory therapists, case managers, and disease managers at Capital District Physicians' Health Plan and Health Coach Connection work together to ensure that members have all the tools and support they need to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

The health plan offers Weigh 2 Be for adults and KidPower for children, both programs that help participants learn to manage their weight and improve their health. The health plan started its adult weight management program in April 2003 to respond to the increased prevalence of obesity and comorbidities, such as hypertension and diabetes, that are linked to diabetes, Roberts says.

The program is designed to help participants learn to manage their weight and improve their health, and the statistics have been encouraging, Roberts points out.

In 2006, 79% of adults responding to the health plan's Weigh 2 Be program reported reductions in their body mass index.

The health plan developed and implemented a KidPower weight management program for children ages 5 to 17 to address the growing childhood obesity epidemic. "Research indicates that there has been a dramatic increase in Type 2 diabetes and hypertension in children. The objective is to keep people healthier and prevent disease, while simultaneously improving their quality of life and lowering the cost of health care," Roberts says.

Capital District Physicians' Health Plan sent out an introductory mailing describing the Weigh 2 Be program to more than 30,000 members with diabetes and/or hypertension.

In addition, adults are referred to the Weight 2 Be program by their physicians, nurse case managers or by self-referral.

When members enroll in the program, they receive a packet of information on nutrition, stress management, fitness, a discount on the purchase of a pedometer, and a rebate offer of $64 off the completion of a 10-week Weight Watcher's program.

"We partnered with Weight Watchers since this was the most sound and evidence based weight loss resource. It helps participants learn portion control and how to eat healthfully," Roberts says.

Members who sign up for the program can access interactive fitness and weight loss tools on the health plan's web site. They can enter their weight and other measurements on the site to determine their body mass index, and calculate the number of calories they are consuming each day by entering information on what they eat and drink.

In response to surveys from members who wanted more personal contact, in May, the health plan developed a Weigh 2 Be pilot program of six, one-hour classes in the community. Experts speak to participants on topics ranging from hypertension and stress management to cooking and exercise demonstrations.

Members weighed in each week and received a small incentive each week, such as a stress ball, fitness bands, or portion control dishes. About 60% of enrollees participated in all six classes.

"We want to give them the resources they can use at home to be successful in their weight loss efforts," Roberts says.

Because the class attracted participants from their 30s to their 80s, the speakers covered subjects that would be of interest to everyone. For instance, the fitness instructor taught exercises that people could do in wheelchairs, sitting down, or standing up.

The health plan offered a second round of Weigh 2 Be six-week programs again in September. More than 125 members enrolled in the second round, many of whom participated in the first pilot program.

In October, the plan started sending out a quarterly newsletter to Weigh 2 Be participants.

"Each quarter will address different options for making healthier lifestyle choices," Roberts says.

Each child enrolled in KidPower receives a backpack filled with items to promote healthy eating and fitness, including a book explaining nutrition, fitness, and behavior modification techniques. Color-coded stickers and a refrigerator magnet included in the packet help kids identify foods they should consume in small, medium, and large quantities. A fast-food slide guide and an offer to purchase a pedometer are also included.

The health plan was the first to partner with Radio Disney to present its Move It! programs throughout the community. The program, which aims to get children involved in physical activities, sends the Radio Disney van to community locations and presents a fitness program that may include hula hoops, dance, or creative movement. Kids receive collectible Disney pins for participating.

The health plan has launched a six-week KidPower pilot program of classes for children ages 10 to 15. Participants attend the classes for an hour each week, working with either a children's fitness expert or a children's nutritionist. The class includes fitness stations where the kids try their hand at activities such as hula hoops and beach balls.

"Many of these children can't run and compete in the same activities that other kids their age can. We designed the program so everybody could be successful," Robert says.

Participants in the program bring in a sheet each week showing that they have done 15 minutes of fitness activities each week. At the end of the program, the sheets will be entered into a drawing for an iPod Shuffle.