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Obesity and related metabolic syndrome conditions continue to plague the health of many U.S. residents.  The latest numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicate 35 percent of men and 40 percent of women are obese. Narrowing the perspective to older adult Americans, at least 66 percent are overweight or obese and 51 percent are at risk of type 2 diabetes. According to statistics gathered by the Journal of American Medical Association, 35 percent of the U.S. adult population overall would be diagnosed with metabolic syndrome if examined, a number that jumps to 50 percent of Americans 60 and older. A recent study of Medicare costs published in Health Affairs estimates that enrolling people with pre-diabetes in a proven weight loss program would save at least $7 billion annually.

A recent study published in the Journal of Health and Aging by Human and Omada Health Inc. measured the effectiveness a telehealth solution. The study investigated the effectiveness of a 16-week digital health program that included remote access to human coaching. More than 500 subjects who had previously shown evidence of pre-diabetes or metabolic syndrome took part. The results were comparable to more costly face-to-face programs, according to the authors. The study did not have a control group, and it relied on self-selected subjects who were interested and willing to engage with a digitally-based program. With those caveats, however, the results were promising.

Of those who started the 16 segment program, 95 percent finished four segments and 92 percent completed nine or more segments. Health outcomes were measured at 16 weeks, six months, and 12 months. At the 12 month check-in, participants lost an average of 7.5 percent of initial body weight. Of those for whom clinical data was available, blood glucose control improved and total cholesterol decreased. Also, according to the study, self-reported well-being, depression, and self-care all improved.

These are still very early days in telemedicine and remote care. With obesity and metabolic syndrome trending toward catastrophic levels in the population, indications that digital health program delivery can be effective are promising not just for cost containment but for improving the overall health of an aging population.