CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – About a third of the children covered by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (BCBSNC) are overweight or in danger of becoming overweight, yet most of their parents see no problem with their kids' weight.
Armed with these alarming statistics, BCBSNC today announced a pilot program to empower families to help their children maintain healthy weights, adopt good nutrition habits and get daily physical activity. The program follows BCBSNC's industry-leading efforts to engage adult members on weight and lifestyle issues. In 2005, BCBSNC became the first health insurer in the nation to cover obesity as a primary condition. In 2007, it will extend new benefits to children.
"It is time for all of us to face an uncomfortable truth: thousands of our children are on course for developing preventable diseases that will lower their quality of life and shorten their lifespan," said BCBSNC President and CEO Bob Greczyn. "Our challenge is to alert families that there is a problem and help them find the way toward healthier lifestyles."
BCBSNC announced the survey results and the new program as part of its annual State of Preventive Health report and summit. As part of the summit, BCBSNC gathered more than 150 medical professionals, community leaders, elected officials, public health experts, business executives and others to discuss childhood obesity and solutions.
In preparation for the report, BCBSNC surveyed 1,874 members – all of whom were parents – and found wide disconnects on issues related to weight, nutrition and activity1:
  • About 29 percent of children covered by BCBSNC are overweight or in danger of becoming overweight2; however, 59 percent of those children's parents thought their kids' weights were "about right."
  • No parents – none – reported that their children got the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity per day; only 32 percent reported that their kids got that much activity five days per week. Yet only 28 percent of parents thought their children did not get enough physical activity.
  • Only 56 percent of parents reported that their children were getting the recommended servings of fruit and vegetables per day. Yet 67 percent of parents thought their children had healthy diets.
  • Seventy-two percent of parents report that their children get less than two hours of computer or TV screen time per day. However, national studies show children averaging 3 to 5 hours of daily TV watching3. Of children covered by BCBSNC, nearly half have a television in their room.
The goals of BCBSNC's pilot program for children and families are to reduce children's computer and TV screen time to less than two hours per day, increase their fruit and vegetable consumption to at least five servings per day, increase their physical activity to 60 minutes or more per day, and to reduce their consumption of sugared beverages.
"No parent wants their child to suffer the health and emotional problems that can stem from unhealthy weight, poor eating habits and lack of activity," said Dr. Bob Harris, BCBSNC senior vice president and chief medical officer. "Our goal is to help them with simple steps they can take, even with their busy lives, to make good health a lifestyle choice – removing high-fat and high-calorie foods from their home, shopping for healthy food with their kids, taking a daily walk, and getting good advice from medical and nutrition professionals."
As part of the program, BCBSNC will provide children coverage of up to six visits to licensed and credentialed nutritionists in the BCBSNC network, a benefit it extended to adults last year. Participants will also get access by phone to a nurse health coach. BCBSNC will continue to provide children and adults up to four physician visits a year for the evaluation and treatment of obesity.
In addition, BCBSNC will provide a variety of resources that families can use based on their children's ages, including tools for toddlers, children and teenagers. The tools include a family health road map, a food and activity tracker, and a variety of books and materials. The materials include an alphabet book on healthy eating, refrigerator magnets promoting healthy snacks and fun family fitness guides. Parents can use the materials to engage their children in shopping for and preparing healthy food, and encourage them to be physically active. Younger children in the program will get beach balls and older kids will receive step counters.
The trial program will begin Jan. 1, 2007. Invited participants will include families in eligible BCBSNC health plans with at least one child diagnosed as diabetic or asthmatic, and BCBSNC survey participants who indicated a desire for family lifestyle changes. Families with BCBSNC coverage may also request to join the program, which will be part of the company's Member Health PartnershipsSM.
The program follows on the heels of BCBSNC's successful Healthy Lifestyle Choices program for adults. BCBSNC recently reported that nearly half the pilot participants in that program lost weight, with an average loss of nine pounds. Healthy Lifestyle Choices was recently honored for innovation by the Harvard University School of Medicine as part of the BlueWorks initiative.
1 BCBSNC Child and Adolescent Survey, Fall 2005
2 According to the survey, 15.6 percent of the children covered by BCBSNC are overweight, and 13.8 are in danger of overweight. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines overweight for children as a body mass index (BMI) in the 95 percentile or above and in danger of overweight as a BMI of between 85 and 94.
3 "Childhood obesity on the rise," National Institutes of Health, 2002
About Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina:
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina is a leader in delivering innovative health care products, services and information to nearly 3.4 million members, including approximately 639,000 served on behalf of other Blue Plans. For 73 years, the company has served its customers by offering health insurance at a competitive price and has served the people of North Carolina through support of community organizations, programs and events that promote good health. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina is an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association. Access BCBSNC online at