This is the first published study that evaluates a policy decision by a private insurance company to provide coverage for MNT. It shows offering MNT "yields significant health benefits" for participants in the company's plan. The cost of the MNT benefit to the health plan was relatively small, at $0.03 per member per month.
Previous research has demonstrated the value - in both improved health and cost savings - of medical nutrition therapy provided by a registered dietitian. Since 2002, Medicare has covered medical nutrition therapy for beneficiaries with diabetes and kidney disease.
The study, titled "The Incremental Value of Medical Nutrition Therapy in Weight Management," was conducted over two years by researches from Duke University, University of Iowa, Blue Cross - Blue Shield of North Carolina and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The study was published in the January issue of Managed Care. A total of 291 overweight or obese adults were enrolled in the Blue Cross - Blue Shield MNT program, and their results were compared with 1,104 similar individuals who did not use the MNT benefit.
The study analyzed data from Blue Cross - Blue Shield of North Carolina's Member Health Partnership program, which is offered "to individuals who are obese or have obesity-related conditions including diabetes, hyperlipidemia and hypertension."
The MHP program provides up to six visits per year to a registered dietitian for MNT services that involve "nutritional, diagnostic, therapy and counseling services furnished by an RD" that are based on three Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics' Evidence-Based Nutrition Practice Guidelines: adult weight management, disorders of lipid metabolism and hypertension. The program also includes visits to a physician; educational and behavior change tools like reference books, step counters and a lifestyle diary; and online tools like an exercise tracker.
Health outcomes measured were "changes in weight, body mass index, waist circumference and exercise."
"Individuals who received full MNT were more successful [than those who did not receive MNT at maintaining or losing weight (66.3 percent vs. 57.5 percent) and had twice the odds of achieving a clinically significant weight loss.... And they were more likely to exercise more frequently after participating in the program."
The study concludes: "MNT is a valuable adjunct to health management programs that can be implemented at a relatively low cost. MNT warrants serious consideration as a standard inclusion in health benefits plans."
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association) is the world's largest organization of food and nutrition professionals. The Academy is committed to improving the nation's health and advancing the profession of dietetics through research, education and advocacy. Visit the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics at www.eatright.org.
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