CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – A Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (BCBSNC) program that has documented significant success in helping members lose weight and adopt healthier lifestyles has been honored for innovation and effectiveness by the Harvard Medical School's Department of Health Care Policy.
The citation for BCBSNC's Healthy Lifestyle Choices program comes on the heels of news this month that a significant number of the initial participants in the program lost weight, increased exercise and lowered their blood pressure. In the first six months of the program, 46 percent of the members participating reported losing weight, with an average loss of 9 pounds.
Healthy Lifestyle Choices was honored by the Harvard Medical School researchers as part of the BlueWorks initiative, designed to spotlight Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans nationwide whose programs and services have the potential to promote health care affordability and quality. BCBSNC was one of four Blue plans to be recognized for engaging consumers to make knowledgeable choices on issues including obesity, emergency room use, prescription drug choices and mental health follow-up.
"Programs tackling the epidemic of obesity and overweight should be recognized for their forward-thinking attitude. These are complex conditions affecting millions of Americans from all walks of life. While the economic and physical toll of the disease is significant, treatments and protocols are not yet widely incorporated into many physician practices," said Barbara McNeil, MD, PhD, chairman of the Department of Health Care Policy at Harvard Medical School.
The initial results of the Healthy Lifestyle Choices program were published recently in the North Carolina Medical Journal, Vol. 67, No. 4 (July/August 2006) in an article authored by Bob Harris, MD, BCBSNC senior vice president and chief medical officer. In a survey of initial participants in the program:
  • 46 percent of participants reported that they lost waist inches, with an average reduction of 0.86 inches.
  • 46 percent of participants reported an increase in days of exercising, with an average increase of 0.64 days per week.
  • More than two-thirds of those who did not exercise at the beginning of the program said they had done some level of exercise during the survey period.
  • 76 percent of the participants who had hypertension reported that they moved to a lower hypertension severity category.
  • 32 percent of the participants said they had increased their intake of fruits and vegetables, with the average number of servings increasing from 1.6 to 1.9 per day.  
The results are based upon a survey of participants in the pilot program for Healthy Lifestyle Choices, which ran from August through December of 2004. Of the 1,956 participants in the pilot, 727 responded to the survey. The results occurred even before BCBSNC became the first health insurer in the nation to cover obesity as a primary condition and adopted other benefit changes to promote healthy weight and nutrition among its members.
"The Healthy Lifestyle Choices program clearly illustrates how we can affect change and help consumers better manage their health choices across the country," said Scott P. Serota, Blue Cross Blue Shield Association president and CEO. "Blue companies are constantly seeking new and innovative ways to better serve consumers. The ability of each company to respond to local needs in an in-depth fashion, yet also have the potential for broad national reach, is one of the our greatest strengths."
About 60 percent of BCBSNC members are overweight or obese, comparable to statistics from the state and nation as a whole. BCBNSC has found that obese members cost the company 32 percent more in medical expenses than healthy weight members.
As part of the Healthy Lifestyle Choices program, BCBSNC provides participants with a personalized health report suggesting opportunities for lifestyle changes. It also provides them with materials that include a food and physical activity diary, a step counter, a tape measure, Web-based programs and a newsletter. BCBSNC also encourages physicians to talk to patients about weight, activity and nutrition issues, and provides them with toolkits for obesity treatment.
In 2005, BCBSNC launched a variety of benefit changes as part of its effort to promote healthy weight, nutrition and physical activity among its members. Those changes included coverage of four physician office visits per year for obesity evaluation and treatment; coverage of two FDA approved drugs for the long-term treatment of obesity; and credentialing and contracting with licensed, registered dieticians to include their services in the treatment of obesity. Those benefits apply to about 1.3 million members under employer-sponsored or individual coverage in BCBSNC's Blue Care®, Blue OptionsSM or Blue Advantage® plans.
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 more nearly 3.4 million members, including approximately 744,000 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