Help Seniors Stay Healthy With Medicare's Obesity Counseling

Megan Ray  |  January 16, 2015

Prevention is a significant part of senior care. Many of the more serious chronic conditions are difficult to treat and often impossible to cure. For this reason, health care professionals and care providers have a vested interest in encouraging seniors to take a more active role in their health management through lifestyle choices. Medicare offers a little-known benefit in obesity counseling that may help many seniors more effectively control their weight. Educating individuals on the existence of this benefit, and how they can use it, is an important step for care providers to take.

Senior obesity is a problem
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, around one-third of U.S. seniors are obese. A study from Case Western University in Cleveland, Ohio, pointed out that obesity is a contributing factor to many more serious chronic senior health conditions, including heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure. Additionally, obesity has been recognized as an independent medical risk factor, having been directly linked to increased senior mortality rate. Unfortunately, the CDC indicated that over the past decade, obesity rates in seniors have continued to rise, with particular prevalence among the 65-74 age group.

Medicare takes note
A rise in chronic health conditions among seniors is an expensive proposition for Medicare, which is funded by government tax dollars. With obesity being recognized as a significant factor linked to many other health concerns, the U.S. government has taken steps to help seniors manage their weight as a form of preventive care.

The official Medicare website outlined eligibility for its obesity counseling benefit. Any senior receiving Medicare who has a body mass index above 30 may receive weight screenings and medical weight-loss counseling. The benefit covers weekly consultations for the first month, with meetings reduced to biweekly and then monthly between two and six months, and after the seventh month, respectively.

Lack of information may be a problem
Despite the government's initiative to tailor Medicare to help seniors manage weight loss, obesity counseling remains one of the least-used Medicare benefits. In fact, noted that as of November 2014, fewer than 1 percent of seniors were currently taking advantage of the program. 

The source indicated that doctors and physicians may play a key role in increasing the rate at which seniors use the obesity counseling benefit. One problem may simply be acknowledging obesity as a serious health risk. While many doctors take proactive roles in assisting patients with smoking cessation, few are as active about helping their patients lose weight, despite the fact that smoking and obesity are two leading causes of death in seniors, according to the source.