Today, about 75 chapters in 28 states and the District of Columbia offer it. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has been charged with broadening access to “lifestyle change” programs, disbursed $6.75 million in 2012 to encourage health insurers, public health advocates and employer groups to offer versions of the program.
But with more than 78 million people potentially in line to get it, demand far outstrips supply.
Researchers like Ma have been working on ways to use technology to make the program more widely available. In a study published last month in the Archives of Internal Medicine, she and her colleagues found that putting the 12-week curriculum on an inexpensive DVD and assigning a coach to answer questions and offer support helped 37 percent of obese participants lose 7 percent of their body weight — a rate more than twice as high as for those who got no help at all.
In a related study published in the same journal, researchers gave obese volunteers a personal digital device to monitor their weight, diet and physical activity and had them check in with a coach every other week. The volunteers lost more weight than trial subjects who were on their own.
The UnitedHealth Group’s Diabetes Prevention and Control Alliance in Minnetonka, Minn., has worked to make the Diabetes Prevention Program available on demand to Comcast cable subscribers nationwide. UnitedHealth Group physicians and public health specialists worked with a TV production crew to create a reality-show version of the program. After the pilot aired last year in Philadelphia and Knoxville, Tenn., it took just three weeks to get 700 people to volunteer for a clinical trial of the TV-based program. The results of that will be published soon, said Dr. Deneen Vojta, chief clinical officer for the UnitedHealth program.
“These people lost a ton of weight,” she said.