AUSTIN, Texas — Applying learnings from decades of research on the effects of youth obesity on overall health, Factor Health — an initiative of Dell Medical School at The University of Texas at Austin — is launching its third program, bringing together diverse partners including Boys & Girls Clubs of the Austin Area, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas and Lone Star Circle of Care to improve the health of pre-adolescent girls in Central Texas.
The new Factor Health program, funded by a grant from the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, will work with Boys & Girls Clubs of the Austin Area to bring together in-school, after-school and family engagement touchpoints to measurably reduce body mass index (BMI) and mitigate illnesses associated with obesity.
“Every day, organizations like the Boys & Girls Clubs are impacting health, but the health system as we know it doesn’t pay them for it. Our goal is to change that,” said Mini Kahlon, Ph.D., vice dean of the Health Ecosystem and executive director of Factor Health.
“This new business of health is focused on improving health outside of the clinic,” she said. “It’s about bringing together health ecosystem partners — investors, health care payers, community-based organizations, academic medical centers — to envision a new way to move the needle on health.”
The consequences of obesity in children are well known, but how to address this growing epidemic remains unclear. Kids who are overweight and obese are more likely to have asthma, develop Type 2 diabetes, experience depression and anxiety, be bullied at school and have low academic performance.
“It can be challenging for insurance companies to cover non-clinical interventions when the health benefits and cost savings are not evident until much further down the road,” said Aliya Hussaini, M.D., health portfolio director for the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation. “It’s exciting that payers are at the table helping to define the types of outcomes and features that make a compelling case for insurers to pay for these transformative health interventions.”
How It Will Work
Bolstered through collaboration with youth obesity expert Deanna Hoelscher, Ph.D., regional dean of the UTHealth School of Public Health in Austin, the program will operate out of Boys & Girls Club locations embedded in five elementary school campuses within the Austin Independent School District. The initiative will build and expand on the organization’s nutrition and exercise curriculum, CATCH (Coordinated Approach To Child Health).
“In conjunction with the school day PE classes, the CATCH program has raised the awareness of healthy lifestyles and choices in our club members,” said Kedrick Jeffries, club director at Overton Elementary School. “Not only is it challenging them with their diets, but it goes further with physical activities that are inclusive and keep students engaged.”
The Factor Health team will focus specifically on pre-adolescent girls, grades 3 to 5, who exhibit obesity risk factors. In addition, physicians at Lone Star Circle of Care, a Federally Qualified Health Center, will optimize participation by identifying patients who match the criteria and referring them to the program.
“This program will expand treatment options for physicians, allowing them to ‘prescribe’ healthier eating and more exercise to their young patients,” said Rhonda Mundhenk, J.D., MPH, Lone Star Circle of Care’s CEO. “Instead of merely advising parents, doctors will be able to provide a road map to help them achieve those health goals.”
Participants will also be paired with a health coach, who will work with them and their families to identify and reduce barriers they face to implementing healthier lifestyle habits.
“The health coaches may visit the girls’ homes and conduct an assessment around nutrition, asking parents: ‘What do you need? What gets in your way?’ — then develop pathways to help solve these issues,” Kahlon said. “From other studies we know that a curriculum aimed at children alone won’t make an impact, but a more holistic approach including the families could. That’s why an important element in our program is family engagement.”
Creating New Providers of Health
Working with payer partner Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas, the program takes into consideration how insurance and other health care payers view impact so that successful outcomes could potentially be paid for by payers in the long term.
Throughout the two-year program, partners will regularly and collaboratively review results and plan for payment models based on outcomes to support the program after the demonstration period.
"Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas is proud to be a part of this important behavioral health initiative for young girls,” said Janice Fagen, vice president, Texas Medicaid operations for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas. “This program will help girls form positive habits so they can lead healthier lives.” This marks the third program launched by Factor Health, a platform originally funded by the Houston-based Episcopal Health Foundation, since September.
Other Factor Health programs are focused on chronic disease management for home-bound older adults through Meals on Wheels Central Texas and the mental health effects on youths who have experienced family trauma through Youth Rise Texas. Partners include managed care payers Amerigroup Texas and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas.
Factor Health is also working to connect organizations, payers and investors to launch similar efforts in the Houston area.
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