Program helps workers 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 employee a decision-support video along with information on diabetes, nutrition, and healthy lifestyles. The health coach also referred the employee 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 employee 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 employees 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 co-morbidities, such as hypertension and diabetes, that are linked, 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.

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 employees 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.

Employees 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 they can calculate the number of calories they are consuming each day by entering information on what they eat and drink.

In response to survey results from employees 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. Employees 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 sitting down or standing up, as well as in wheelchairs.

The health plan offered a second round of Weigh 2 Be six-week programs again in September. More than 125 persons enrolled in the second round, and many of those had participated in the first pilot program. In October, the plan started sending a quarterly newsletter to Weigh 2 Be participants. "Each quarter will address different options for making healthier lifestyle choices," Roberts says.