July 15, 2008

Therapeutic Lifestyle Change (TLC) Programs: The Key to Fighting Chronic Disease

Chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease have reached epidemic proportions, affecting half of Americans and costing $1.5 trillion annually. But a little-known and relatively inexpensive tool called a TLC program has been shown to be effective in preventing, managing, or even reversing, many of our most prevalent chronic conditions. So why don't more health professionals offer TLC?

How TLC Programs Work

Jeffrey Bland, PhD is a nutritional biochemist and the chief science officer for Metagenics, Inc., a company that offers a TLC program called FirstLine Therapy(R). According to Bland, "TLC programs are designed to increase a person's state of wellness through healthier eating and moderate physical activity. They should not be confused with weight loss programs or diets. Whereas those programs generally fail, TLC programs have been remarkably successful in helping people achieve long-term success."

In a typical TLC program, a health professional will 1) assess your current health, 2) help you set realistic goals, 3) tailor a plan of action, 4) schedule frequent follow-ups, and 5) adjust the plan as necessary. If appropriate, he or she may refer you to other allied health professionals such as a dietary counselor or fitness trainer.

Why Doctors Don't Offer TLC

Historically, Western medicine has focused little on wellness and prevention. To wit: despite its name, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention allocates less than 3% of its budget for chronic disease prevention. "Most healthcare providers are hesitant to counsel their patients on wellness and prevention because of frustration with patient non-compliance and lack of time, financial reimbursement, and training," says Bland.

But the tide is turning. Medicare now covers limited preventive services. Employers, who bear the brunt of the runaway healthcare costs, are more willing to provide wellness benefits. And within the medical community the practice of "lifestyle medicine" is beginning to catch on.

What You Can Do

If you're concerned about your risk for chronic disease, consult your doctor about TLC. TLC may not be covered by insurance, so ask your employer about available corporate wellness benefits. Additionally, your tax professional can advise whether a TLC program can be paid for using pre-tax dollars available from an employer-sponsored flexible spending account or Federal health savings account.