All too often, insurance companies practice what is sometimes called "sick care"—they take care of people after they’ve already become ill instead of trying to prevent that illness in the first place. So it’s refreshing to hear that UnitedHealthcare is bucking that trend in a handful of U.S. schools. The company is embarking on an anti-childhood obesity campaign with a little help from video games—Dance Dance Revolution, to be exact.
Two years ago, UnitedHealth decided to confront the U.S. obesity epidemic by heading into schools. "What we’re focused on here is trying to overcome the severe challenges of escalation in health care costs that are associated with the rising inexorable tide of preventable chronic illness that comes from people having risk factors for serious disease," explains Dr. Reed Tuckson, executive vice president and chief of medical affairs at UnitedHealth Group.
The company adopted two school districts each in Georgia, Florida, and Texas—three states that are representative of the obesity crisis—and embedded their own care coordinators into the school systems to organize group physical education activities. In January, UNH announced that it’s partnering with Konami to bring Dance Dance Revolution: Classroom Edition (launched in 2012) into three schools in Longwood, Fla.; Gainesville, Ga.; and Fresno, Texas.
"We started using Dance Dance Revolution because we saw it as being exciting, and we were encouraged by data that showed the level of physical exertion in active play mode," says Tuckson. It’s true—there’s nothing like a good video game to excite kids. If it gets them to exercise, even better, especially since gym class can be incredibly tedious.
The major difference between the regular version of Dance Dance Revolution and the classroom addition is the hardware; the latter product comes with wireless mat controllers that allow up to 48 people to play at the same time. Each controller comes with a smart card reader that records individual statistics like calorie burn rate and steps taken.
UNH plans to study data from the Dance Dance Revolution installations in hopes of learning more about how it affects student health, among other things. Says Tuckson: "We’re not seduced by technology for technology’s sake."
Expect to see more Dance Dance Revolution in classrooms over the next year; the American Diabetes Association, Let’s Move, and the National Foundation on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition also are partnering with Konami to bring it to schools across the country.