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Aetna and the Aetna Foundation Grants Will Help Put Proof Behind Policies to Address Obesity

-- New Grants Will Fund National, Nonpartisan Studies of Effective Policies that Can Help Improve Nutrition and Stop the Nation’s Childhood Obesity Epidemic --

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Thursday, May 19, 2011 11:05 am EDT

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HARTFORD, Conn.
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"Through scientifically sound, peer-reviewed research on the likely impact of national policies on childhood obesity rates, our work can inform an effective approach to reaching the goal of the White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity to reduce childhood obesity rates from the current 17 percent to 5 percent by 2030"

HARTFORD, Conn.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--As America continues to confront the implications of a growing childhood obesity epidemic, calls for action are increasing. But can changes in federal government policies reverse America’s childhood obesity crisis? If so, what policy changes will be broadly effective? Answering these questions is the aim of two new studies announced today by the Aetna Foundation. Two leading nonpartisan think-tanks – the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress and Partnership for Prevention – will study the effect of current federal programs and policies to quantify their impact on children’s nutritional intake and/or physical activity levels. Using this data, the organizations will make informed recommendations on future policy options that will help address today’s well-documented childhood obesity epidemic. The results of both studies are expected in 2012.

The Aetna Foundation has made a $250,000 grant to the Center of the Study of the Presidency and Congress (CSPC) to analyze the health and nutritional intake of children receiving benefits through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps. Nearly half of all U.S. children, including 90 percent of black children, will be on food stamps at some point during childhood. The CSPC project also will develop SNAP policy recommendations to encourage healthy food purchases.

A $250,000 grant funded by Aetna Inc. will enable Partnership for Prevention to develop rigorous methodologies to quantify the likely impact on childhood obesity of enacting various national policies currently being proposed. A tax on soft drinks, restrictions on advertising for junk food and the adoption of transportation policies that promote exercise are among those that may be studied by Partnership for Prevention.

“These two projects have the potential to be game changers in the fight against childhood obesity,” said Anne C. Beal, M.D., M.P.H., president of the Aetna Foundation. “With one-third of children either obese or overweight, we must address this health crisis at the national level and use rigorous analysis to consider how changes to our federal policies and programs may help young Americans lead healthier lives. Obesity and its accompanying health risks cannot be treated solely at the individual or local level. We need to look holistically at the childhood obesity epidemic.”

With 44 million low-income Americans now receiving SNAP benefits, the program has a significant influence on the nutrition of a large population of at-risk Americans, says former U.S. Assistant Surgeon General Susan Blumenthal, M.D., M.P.A., the director of CSPC’s health and medicine program, who is leading the research project.

As SNAP is currently structured, the program has few limits on the types of food or beverages bought and few incentives to encourage the purchase of healthy, nutritious foods, such as fruits and vegetables, lean protein sources and whole grains.

“Our study will make recommendations for how SNAP could use its buying power and its relationship with retailers and consumers to promote healthier nutrition for its beneficiaries,” Dr. Blumenthal said.

The CSPC study will focus much of its research on SNAP’s impact on children, who represent nearly 50 percent of the program’s beneficiaries. The study will be the first to analyze the government’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey data for SNAP recipients, ages 4 to 19, to determine the program’s effects on the health and nutritional intake of its youngest beneficiaries. In addition, CPSC will survey a broad range of stakeholders for their recommendations on improving nutrition in SNAP and launch an interactive website – www.SNAPtoHealth.org – to serve as a forum for public discourse on the topic.

Congress is poised to reauthorize SNAP in the 2012 Farm Bill. “With 1 in 7 Americans enrolled in SNAP, innovative strategies are needed to promote healthy nutrition for its beneficiaries and reduce obesity rates in the years ahead. Strengthening SNAP is a critical ingredient in meeting 21st-century public health and nutrition challenges,” said Blumenthal.

In its study, Partnership for Prevention will create micro-simulation models to estimate the potential impact on childhood obesity rates of several national policies frequently recommended by health advocates. In consultation with a panel of leading childhood obesity experts, the research team will identify three policies for study from among a group that includes a tax on soft drinks, nutritional enhancements to school lunches, restrictions on junk food advertising, clearer food labeling, agricultural support programs and transportation policies that promote physical activity.

The core of the Partnership for Prevention study will be the development of simulations that estimate lifetime patterns of physical activity, diet, and weight, and changes in these patterns in response to a specific policy change. The research will compare policy enactment scenarios to no-intervention baselines.

“Through scientifically sound, peer-reviewed research on the likely impact of national policies on childhood obesity rates, our work can inform an effective approach to reaching the goal of the White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity to reduce childhood obesity rates from the current 17 percent to 5 percent by 2030,” said Jud Richland, M.P.H., M.P.A., the president of Partnership for Prevention, who is the primary investigator of the study.

Partnership for Prevention has extensive experience developing new and innovative methodologies to assess the health impact of clinical preventive services, community preventive services, and national policies. The organization is best known for its work assessing the relative value of clinical preventive services based on each intervention’s health impact and cost-effectiveness. Its rankings have been used widely by health plans and policy makers to ensure that the highest value preventive services are delivered to patients. A study that assesses 15 community interventions – seven interventions to reduce tobacco use and eight interventions to increase physical activity – is expected to be published later this year.

Fighting obesity is one of the Aetna Foundation’s three program areas, along with promoting racial and ethnic equity in health and health care and promoting integrated and well-coordinated health care. Recently, the Aetna Foundation announced $1 million in funding for research to deepen understanding of the root causes of obesity, including food pricing, healthy food availability and the role of sidewalks, green spaces, public safety and other built environment factors.

About the Aetna Foundation

The Aetna Foundation, Inc. is the independent charitable and philanthropic arm of Aetna Inc. Since 1980, Aetna and the Aetna Foundation have contributed $394 million in grants and sponsorships, including $15.6 million in 2010. As a national health foundation, we promote wellness, health, and access to high-quality health care for everyone. This work is enhanced by the time and commitment of Aetna employees, who have volunteered more than 2.3 million hours since 2003. Our current giving is focused on addressing the rising rate of adult and childhood obesity in the U.S.; promoting racial and ethnic equity in health and health care; and advancing integrated health care. For more information, visit www.AetnaFoundation.org.

About Aetna

Aetna is one of the nation’s leading diversified health care benefits companies, serving approximately 33.8 million people with information and resources to help them make better informed decisions about their health care. Aetna offers a broad range of traditional, voluntary and consumer-directed health insurance products and related services, including medical, pharmacy, dental, behavioral health, group life and disability plans, and medical management capabilities and health care management services for Medicaid plans. Our customers include employer groups, individuals, college students, part-time and hourly workers, health plans, governmental units, government-sponsored plans, labor groups and expatriates. For more information, see www.aetna.com. To learn more about Aetna’s innovative online tools, visit www.aetnatools.com.

Contact:

Aetna
Susan Millerick, 860-273-0536
millericks@aetna.com