Insurers Focus On Kids' Health

Kate Brown shoots baskets at her house in Albany, N.Y., on Thursday, Aug. 18, 2005. Brown, 14, who joined Kid Power about a year ago says, "I learned things I didn't know before, like how much fat is in junk food". (AP Photo/Jim McKnight)
Once a potato chip addict, 14-year-old Kate Brown won't touch the stuff these days.

After enrolling in a nutritional program for kids, Brown learned things about her favorite snacks that horrified her — like how much fat is loaded into a bag of chips. Gone are the days when she'd come home from school and park in front of the computer. She's joined a soccer team and gets out as often as she can.

The makeover comes courtesy of KidPower, a free program offered by Capital District Physicians Health Plan, a health insurer covering upstate New York and Vermont. The program is built around a kid-friendly fitness workbook, food charts and workshops covering everything from rock climbing to how to pack a healthy lunch.

One class, aimed at children ages 5 to 8, teaches the basics of how to read a food label.

The KidPower program is part of a growing national trend steering kids away from greasy fast foods and toward the fruit bowl.

Insurers have long encouraged adults to get in shape by offering discounts and rebates for gym memberships and weight loss programs, but now the spotlight is shifting as statistics about childhood obesity set off alarm bells nationwide.

Obesity-related illnesses represented just 2 percent of spending by health insurers in 1987; that figure rose to 11.6 percent by 2002, according to a study published in the policy journal Health Affairs.

Some 15 percent of U.S. schoolchildren are estimated to be obese, and 30 percent are believed to be overweight.

That could end up costing insurers big: Overweight adolescents have a 70 percent chance of becoming overweight or obese adults.