West Virginia taxpayers may soon be paying for portly citizens to attend Weight Watchers meetings. The state claims it's spending $100 million a year on obesity-related health care. Now, in an effort to reduce those costs, the state's largest Medicaid provider—UniCare, a subsidiary of Wellpoint—will pony up for 16 weeks of subsidized Weight Watchers services. Wellpoint intends to establish similar payouts in 14 other states.
Unfortunately, the change is unlikely to help the bottom line. Tennessee tried a similar plan last year and boasted that the 1,400 subsidized participants lost 8,000 pounds collectively. That may sound good, but it averages out to a little less than six pounds per person—not enough to make much of a difference in health care costs or the lives of the obese people the plan is supposed to help.
This isn't the first time West Virginia has dipped into state coffers to encourage dieting. In 2003 it erected billboards proclaiming "Biggie Fries = Biggie Thighs." No statewide reductions in thigh circumference have been reported.