Health Insurer’s Wellness Program Targets Obesity, Health
A major New Jersey health insurance
provider’s disease management program takes aim at obesity
and can serve as a template for employers and educators nationwide.
Reacting to spiraling healthcare costs related to obesity, Horizon Blue
Cross Blue Shield has created "Horizon Walks for Health," a wellness
program designed to motivate and educate its participants. And, the
campaign starts with Horizon’s own employees.
Dr. Eric Berman, medical director and chairman of
health policy at Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield in Newark, outlined the
program during a recent audio conference "Disease Management and
Obesity" sponsored by the Healthcare Intelligence Network (HIN).
HIN is an Internet-based provider of news and analysis for healthcare
professionals. The audio conference was part of an ongoing series of
information sessions on healthcare-related topics produced by HIN. The
panel also included Robin Foust, population individual health and
productivity management specialist from Zoe Consulting.
Sixty-five percent of Americans are either overweight or obese, Berman
noted, and related annual healthcare costs associated with obesity can
range from $117 to $230 billion nationwide.
The insurance plan partnered with the American
Diabetes Association and the American Heart Association to develop the
program, which stresses sound eating and the importance of daily
Posters advertising proper portion control and
suggesting alternatives to a sedentary lifestyle (taking the stairs or
parking further away from the school or office building, for example)
are central to its educational campaign, as is a walking campaign
urging everyone to incorporate 30 minutes of walking into their daily
The health plan is spreading this message by giving
away thousands of Horizon health kits — insulated lunch sacks
containing a pedometer, food journal and other educational material
— at community events and health fairs throughout the state.
Horizon is also providing age- and culturally-appropriate materials to
New Jersey schools on the importance of personal hygiene, food
selection and exercising.
The program can be adapted to a particular
community or population, Berman said. For example, one New Jersey
school district gave the health kits to students with body image
problems who were in danger of failing gym and, ultimately, school
because they refused to change into gym clothes. The students used the
pedometers to measure their walking programs and earn the required gym
Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield is testing the
effectiveness of the program with employees of AtlantiCare Health
Plans, one of Horizon’s joint venture partners in south
Jersey. The pilot program, introduced in 2003, incorporates a wellness
program into the corporate culture.
"The whole concept is to try to create an
environment that encourages people to take care of themselves, to raise
their own awareness and to spend the time at work to do it," Berman
explained. "It requires changing the environment and the culture in the
organization. If you’re really going to have people buy into
this, management really needs to set the pace and needs to encourage
Interested employees received individual health
assessment sessions with a clinician before participating. The company
mapped out an outdoor walking path, organized walking sessions
throughout the day and created an indoor exercise room. Program
organizers developed a newsletter, offered employee incentives such as
discounts at sporting good stores and healthy restaurants, and created
a database to track participants’ progress.
Nearly 98 percent of the site’s 123
employees participated, and the company has received positive feedback
Eight-one percent reported participating in the
walking campaign at least three times per week, and 79 percent reported
positive changes in portion control, calorie counting and reading
nutritional information on food labels.
There were also positive results in the area of
participants’ weight loss, Berman said. In particular, 25 of
48 participants who had been identified as having a Body Mass Index
(BMI) of greater than 25 (which classified them as overweight [a BMI of
25.0-29.9] or obese [ a BMI >/= 30.0]) had reduced their BMI
and/or associated risk classification after nine months in the program.
The company is still analyzing the results of the
program, Berman said, including the effect of the program on sick time.
Additionally, 15 employees have asked for a smoke
cessation program. "Now that their awareness of weight loss has been
raised, they are more health-conscious," Berman said.
"They’re reducing their weight, and are now ready to move on
to the next problem, which is smoking."
Horizon plans to introduce the same program at two
other sites in New Jersey, and is hoping to offer this program to all
of its employees by late
2004 or early 2005.
A recording of the audio conference that includes the
presentations is available on CD-ROM from HIN by calling 888-446-3530
or visiting HIN’s Web site at: www.hin.com/store/p1830.html.
HIN is the first health content provider on the
Internet to provide its online community of users including hospitals,
managed care organizations and suppliers to the healthcare industry
— with access to more than 45 of the nation’s
leading healthcare publications, covering behavioral healthcare,
compliance, disease management, e-health, HIPAA, managed care and
regulation. Located at www.hin.com, HIN presents the most comprehensive
source of news and analysis for healthcare professionals currently
available in one place, in electronic form.
For more information on any of the features
available at www.hin.com, contact the Healthcare Intelligence Network,
PO Box 1442, Wall Township, NJ 07719-1442; (888) 446-3530, fax (732)
292-3073, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, www.hin.com