UniCare Helps To Combat West Virginia Obesity Epidemic

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With adult and childhood obesity figures reaching alarming totals, UniCare Health Plan of West Virginia, Inc. (UniCare) continues to be an innovator for solutions. UniCare will announce later today that the company will travel the state to offer training to physicians and their staff on ways to help detect, prevent and manage obesity in both adults and children.

The sessions are designed to help prepare physicians and their staff in the provision of obesity-related care. Locations include:

-- Charleston - October 30, Embassy Suites

-- Morgantown - October 31, The Waterfront Place

-- Beckley - November 1, Tamarack Conference Center

"If we're going to make a dent in the state's obesity problem, we must first help physicians and their staff to identify the problem among their patients," said Governor Joe Manchin III. "Additionally, we need to arm physicians with the newest technologies and processes to manage the disease."

Manchin joined Department of Health and Human Resources secretary, Martha Walker, and UniCare officials for today's announcement. Manchin also praised the events for targeting a population with a high risk for obesity, Medicaid recipients.

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"UniCare is providing West Virginia's medical community with tools and information they can use to better serve not only our members, but all of their patients as well," said John Monahan, vice president and executive director for UniCare. "The more our members understand the importance of eating healthy and being active, whether it's from a Weight Watchers class, their physician, or their physician's staff, the more likely they'll be to make a commitment to a healthier lifestyle."

Monahan said physicians and staff can still register for all sessions.

The events are structured in a way for both physicians and their staff to receive training and participate. First, an early morning continuing medical education (CME) session is offered to physicians. The CME addresses prevention, detection, assessment and management of obesity.

After the physician CME is completed, clinical staff members get the opportunity to participate in a body mass index (BMI) training session. That session includes valuable hands-on practice, along with tools and resources, including a BMI calculator wheel, BMI-for-age growth charts, job aids, family brochures and parent educational materials.

To conduct the CME sessions, UniCare is collaborating with Dr. Stephen Sondike, a physician specializing in pediatric and adolescent obesity prevention and management. Sondike is section head of adolescent medicine and director of the Adolescent Cardiovascular Health Program at West Virginia University Physicians of Charleston. He is also an associate professor of pediatrics at West Virginia University.

"Dr. Sondike has the expertise to champion the physician CMEs and we are certainly lucky to have him involved," said Mitch Collins, regional director for UniCare. "His knowledge will provide a valuable learning experience for physicians who take advantage of the events."

As obesity continues to be a significant concern, both in West Virginia and nationally, UniCare has made combating the epidemic a top priority. With the Weight Watchers program for members already in place, assisting physicians was the next logical step.

"We know that physicians play an important role in the fight against obesity," said Dr. Harvinder Sareen, director of clinical programs for UniCare. "Our goal is to provide training to physicians and clinical staff and equip their practices with tools to facilitate standard screening for members with this condition or those at risk. Early identification will allow physicians to provide directed anticipatory guidance and management services to children and families who need it the most."

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