Obesity Program Recommendations Released by Task Force

June 27, 2012

This week all eyes and ears are on the Hill, with the Supreme Court of the United States scheduled to issue their ruling on the Affordable Care Act Thursday. But as we eagerly await their decision, the Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease’s focus on obesity prevention from our Hill briefing last week continues as the U.S. Preventive Task Force this week issued its new guidelines and standards regarding obesity prevention.

Announced in the Annals of Internal Medicine and reported on Kaiser Health News, the U.S. Preventive Task Force recommended new standards - that all adults should be screened for obesity and those found to be obese should be offered at least 12 weeks of intensive lifestyle counseling. The taskforce is a group of independent experts that evaluates evidence supporting preventive medical services, but this is not the first time they have recommended obesity screening. Their new recommendations specify the characteristics of a successful weight loss program; the findings suggest that programs are most effective if they last at least three months and pursue multiple strategies, such as counseling, behavior changes, nutrition, and physical activity. 

The recommendation is expected to accelerate insurance companies’ coverage of weight loss programs, which is especially important given that The Affordable Care Act requires that insurance policies cover preventive services endorsed by the task force that receive a grade of at least an “A” or “B” – without charging a co-pay or deductibles. The recommendations released this week received a grade of “B.” Dr. Donald Lloyd-Jones, chair of preventive medicine at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, noted that insurance companies vary widely in obesity related coverage and “often it’s hit or miss what they’ll pay for.”

The taskforce reviewed 58 weight-loss trials and found that, on average, participants lost 8.8 to 15.4 pounds – or 6 percent of their total body weight – in programs that lasted at least 12 weeks. Weight loss of 5 percent or more is considered “clinically important.”

Identifying and supporting programs and ideas – such as the recommendations put forth by the task force – that help prevent or better manage chronic disease, and the risk factors associated with them, moves us closer to our goal of reducing the incidence of costly and debilitating chronic diseases in this country.