Researchers propose community weight loss programs for prediabetic Baby Boomers

Enrolling overweight and obese Baby Boomers with prediabetes between the ages of 60 and 64 into specific community-based weight loss programs could save Medicare billions of dollars, according to a new study published in Health Affairs.

The research, led by Kenneth E. Thorpe, PhD, professor of health policy and management at Emory’s Rollins School of Public Health in Atlanta, proposes the creation of community-based weight loss programs targeted at Baby Boomers before they enter the Medicare program at age 65.

Thorpe said many of the government’s current approaches do not address the rising rates and prevention of chronic disease and obesity, which will continue to place a financial burden on the healthcare system.

“The majority of healthcare spending is due to increasing rates of weight-related health issues like diabetes, cholesterol and high blood pressure so by the time many people become Medicare eligible, they are already battling these health issues,” Thorpe said. “By focusing on weight loss and prevention, we could not only improve our country’s bottom line, we could make a huge impact in the fight against chronic disease.”

Researchers modeled the proposal on a program developed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the YMCA of the USA and insurance company UnitedHealth Group.

Under the program, conducted in partnership with YMCAs across the country, a trained lifestyle coach helps overweight people at risk for diabetes learn about healthier food and create a fitness plan to increase physical activity. Studies of this program and others like it have found that participants age 60 and older lose weight and reduce the risk of developing diabetes by up to 71 percent.

The researchers estimated that the 16-week program would cost the federal government $590 million and proposed two sources of funding: the CDC’s National Diabetes Prevention Program and the Prevention and Public Health Trust Fund. This would save Medicare an estimated $2.3 billion over the next 10 years or $9.3 billion in net lifetime savings, researchers said.

Next, the team expanded the program to include overweight people who had high blood pressure or high cholesterol. These people may have prediabetes but also face a high chance of suffering from heart disease in the future. Using this scenario, the researchers estimated that Medicare would eventually save $1.4 billion in 10 years and accrue $5.8 billion in net lifetime savings, assuming a 70 percent participation rate.

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