Do health management programmes help?

01 November 2013 Damian McHugh, Momentum Health

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), obesity has reached epidemic proportions globally. In 2008, it was estimated that more than 1.4 billion adults were overweight, and at least 300 million of these are clinically obese.

Obesity rates have increased three-fold or more in most countries since 1980, largely due to increased consumption of more energy-dense, nutrition-poor foods with high levels of sugar and saturated fats. The move toward lower levels of physical activity are also found in the increasing use of automated transport, technology in the home and more passive leisure pursuits. We could expect this epidemic to be limited to industrialised societies, but the increase is often faster in developing countries than in the developed world.

This poses a big risk for the healthcare industry as obesity poses a major risk for serious diet-related chronic diseases, such as diabetes and hypertension. The consequences include increased risk of premature death, as well as reducing the overall quality of life. Most importantly, obesity and its related non-communicable diseases are largely preventable. The above information has been sourced from the WHO fact sheet No 311: Obesity and overweight.

Helping the unwell become well

Incentivising physical activity and healthy eating has been quite successful in the South African market. In 2011, a group of more than 70 000 medical scheme members gained access to a new programme aimed at incentivising members to be more active.

Starting with a free annual health assessment, the programme also compels members, whose health assessment results show high risk concerns, to adhere with prescribed treatment.
After two years, research was conducted on the efficacy of the programme, in particular from the perspective of pre-emptive intervention, and incentivising healthy living.

Encompassing 71 568 members, the study compared parameters such as the number of claims submitted by members who actively took part in the programme, versus those who did not. Encouragingly, the study showed that members with at least three months of physical activity in 2011 claimed almost 30% less in 2012, compared to the inactive members. Chronic incidence, as well as the rate of developing new chronic conditions, was also substantially lower among the active members.

More rewardingly, a second study focusing only on members registered on chronic management programmes, confirmed this success rate for those active on the programme.

Backed up by scientific proof that it is possible to assist individuals in improving their health and lifestyles, the programme has since been expanded further. For 2014, it will include an obesity management component that assists members in improving their diet, along with getting them more active and funding more regular measurements to optimally combat the potentially life-threatening consequences of obesity.
In all likelihood, research will follow to determine how many members who have improved their lifestyle and health continue to do so over the long term, and whether further interventions may be required to ensure sustained improvement.

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