Health insurer tests out reality TV as diabetes intervention

    One of the largest health insurers serving the Philadelphia region is getting into the reality TV business. Comcast and the UnitedHealth Group Inc. are taking some tried-and-proven diabetes prevention information and weaving it into a TV story line.

    One of the largest health insurers serving the Philadelphia region is getting into the reality TV business.

    Comcast and the UnitedHealth Group Inc. are taking some tried-and-proven diabetes prevention information and weaving it into a TV story line.

    The format is familiar. The 16-episode series “stars” six people at high risk for Type 2 diabetes and follows their journey as they try to shed pounds and exercise more.

    “We want to determine that, when people watch this series, can they too achieve a healthier weight and reduce their chances of developing Type 2 diabetes?” said Deborah Sundal, an executive with UnitedHealth Group.

    Early on, the TV participants sip soda and eat cheeseburgers, but UnitedHealth is hoping viewers will do more than sit on the couch and watch.

    “It’s not about the watching that will make the difference; it’s what you do with that information. And at the end of each episode, it tells the person exactly what they can do over the course of the next week, and they are real simple steps,” Sundal said.

    The suggestions include counting calories or beginning a walking program.

    The series will be available through Comcast’s on-demand TV.

    UnitedHealth wants to enroll about 200 Philadelphia-area residents.

    While the TV series will last four months, study participants will receive education and support for a year.

    Sundal says diabetes rates in Philadelphia are slightly higher than in other parts of the country. And nationally, she says, one in five health-care dollars is spent on someone with diabetes.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.