Kids' weight loss program being introduced in La

NEW ORLEANS -- UnitedHealth Group Inc. and the Louisiana Alliance of Boys & Girls Clubs are bringing a 12-month program to help obese and overweight children lose weight. The classes are only for families on the company's Medicaid plan in the New Orleans area.

The company's UnitedHealthcare unit says the program, called Join for Me, gets families involved in lifestyle and behavior changes to help children lose weight.

"Children who are overweight and obese often want to lose weight, but can't figure out how to do it," said Dr. Ann K. Logarbo, chief medical officer for UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Louisiana.

For obese and overweight children, losing weight can reduce the risk of physical and emotional health problems. Obese children are more likely to have high blood pressure, high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes, all of which are risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

In the program, an otherwise healthy child and a parent attend 16 weekly group sessions to learn how to eat better and get more active. At each group session, they get worksheets with topics and goals for a session at home. Those are followed by monthly maintenance sessions for up to eight months more.

Children are taught how to keep tabs on what they do, eat and weigh, and to limit screen time to two hours a day five days a week.

They're also taught a "Yes! and less" system to help their daily calorie count. Fruits, vegetables, lean meats and high-fiber foods are "Yes!" foods that they should concentrate on while limiting high-calorie, low-nutrition foods such as sweets, pizza, fried foods and sugary drinks to two servings a day.

A pilot program in Rhode Island was run through the YMCA. A report on that program, published in the journal Pediatrics, said it can be run by people who don't have experience in treating pediatric obesity, making widespread use possible.

The insurance company and alliance were holding a community forum on childhood obesity Tuesday morning at the New Orleans bionnovation Center.

Classes will be held at some Boys & Girls Clubs for families enrolled in a UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Louisiana Medicaid health plan. The company says it plans to use the program in some areas as part of preventive care for families who have its employer-provided health insurance or government-sponsored Medicaid managed care plans.

"Poor diet and a lack of physical activity are taking a devastating toll on the health of children in Louisiana, which has one of the highest rates of childhood obesity in the country," said Pat Van Burkleo, president of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Southeast Louisiana and the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Baton Rouge. Van Burkleo said the New Orleans program is a first step toward making it more widely available in Louisiana.