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Obese vets might get free gym memberships

Jul. 25, 2013 - 04:44PM   |  
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A Senate committee proposes a multi-year plan to cut the weight of some veterans, including the possibility of buying fitness club memberships for some obese patients.

Under an omnibus veterans’ health and benefits bill passed Wednesday by the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, overweight or obese veterans who live more than 15 minutes driving distance from a Veterans Affairs Department fitness center could receive a free fitness club membership as part of a weight loss program.

The bill, S 944, also proposes a three-year program at VA fitness centers to promote exercise and maintaining a healthy weight.

Both fitness programs would be aimed at veterans enrolled in the VA health care system who are identified by their physicians as being overweight.

The proposals will not become law soon. The committee is not expected to report the bill to the full Senate until September at the earliest. It would have to pass the Senate, and the House would have to agree to the ideas before they could become law. VA also would need time to set up the programs.

The research journal Obesity reported in 2012 that about one-third of veterans would be considered obese, roughly the same percentage as in the private sector, but overweight veterans were bigger in the waist than nonveterans and have higher body mass index ratings.

Overweight veterans also were more likely than non-veterans to have tried to lose weight in the previous year, the journal reported, which is one reason why fitness programs could help.

VA research has found about half of patients at its hospitals and clinics are overweight and about one-quarter are obese. Research has also shown obese veterans who use VA services have higher rates of hypertension and diabetes, are more likely to report they are in poor health and disabled, and are less likely to follow guidelines for diet and exercise than other veterans.

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