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OP-ED: UnitedHealthcare of Alaska Helps Fight the Obesity Epidemic


With Global Youth Service Day just two weeks away, UnitedHealthcare strives to have Alaskans demonstrate to the children in their communities how to be mobile and help reduce the percentage of childhood obesity.

UnitedHealthcare of Alaska has awarded $1,000 in grants to two Alaska-based youth-led organizations to develop programs to fight childhood obesity in their communities. These grants are part of the national effort UnitedHealth HEROES, a community-based, service-learning initiative in collaboration with Youth Service America.

Dr. Roger Muller is the senior medical director for UnitedHealthcare’s Pacific Northwest Region, a position he has held since 2006. In this role, Dr. Muller’s responsibilities include patient care, staff supervision, physician relations, and business development. Dr. Muller oversees a team of 10 nurses responsible for clinical efforts in Washington, Oregon and Alaska, has penned the OpEd below.




Schools and youth-focused community organizations in Alaska pursue programs to fight childhood obesity

We have heard time and again about our nation’s obesity epidemic, and one way we can tackle the crisis is to look at where it often begins — in childhood.

In Alaska alone, more than 33.9 percent of children ages 10 to 17 are obese or overweight. The national trend also is alarming – the obesity rate among children and adolescents has nearly tripled since 1980.

Without immediate action, these children will likely become obese adults and a recent study indicates that this is an issue of life and death. Obese children are twice as likely as their healthy-weight peers to die from disease before age 55, according to the New England Journal of Medicine. In addition, obesity is also straining our national economy with America spending $147 billion in direct health care costs associated with poor diet and physical inactivity, according to the UnitedHealth Foundation’s 2011 America’s Health Ranking®. 

We cannot remain idle. That’s why UnitedHealthcare and organizations such as Boys & Girls Clubs of Alaska and Fairbanks Boys & Girls Club have teamed up to help fight the obesity epidemic, aided by $1,000 in grants through the UnitedHealth HEROES program. More than 280 schools and community-based organizations nationwide, including two in Alaska, have received UnitedHealth HEROES grants to implement local, hands-on programs to fight childhood obesity in their communities.

We are encouraging youths, parents, educators and members of the community to join us in this effort. Here are additional ideas on how to help keep kids active and eating right:


·         Have your kids help in the kitchen, packing a healthy lunch or making a nutritious dinner.

·         Have a basket of fruit and vegetables out for kids to snack on throughout the day.

·         Have your kids try one new food every week; you never know if your children will like eggplant if they don’t try it!

·         Experiment with smoothies. Carrots, spinach, a handful of berries and some low-fat yogurt make a delicious and nutritious treat. Kids will think it’s dessert!


·         Encourage your child to walk or bike to school. If you drive them, arrive early and take a walk around the school before starting the day or when you pick them up at the end of the day.

·         Some city recreation centers have indoor pools for a nominal fee. If you belong to a gym, take your child with you. Many gyms have a childcare center with lots of activities to entertain kids while mom and dad are working out.

It’s time to empower youth as problem-solvers in the fight against childhood obesity. If we work together as a community, we can achieve our common goal of helping our children’s generation overcome obesity.

To learn more about the HEROES program or how to apply for HEROES grants, visit www.ysa.org/HEROES.

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