Rice Diet Program to reopen in January after revamping strategy

dbracken@newsobserver.comNovember 19, 2012 

The Rice Diet Program, a weight loss clinic that has operated in Durham since 1939, has temporarily closed as it seeks to overhaul its business model.

The program closed Nov. 11 and plans to reopen in January with new investors and an increased focus on working with hospital systems and employers, said Chris Rosati. Rosati’s father, Dr. Robert Rosati, owns the program and is its director.

The Rice Diet was among the first weight loss clinics in the country to offer patients a range of services in a single location. Patients receive medical supervision and dietary and exercise lessons and workshops while also eating all their meals at the program’s Durham offices.

But the program has been drawing fewer patients in recent years, said Chris Rosati. He said patients seeking treatment have many more clinics to choose from, and the Rice Diet has never really advertised its services.

“They never really went out and marketed anything, it was really just word of mouth,” he said. The program also has never established an online presence for patients who can’t afford to travel to Durham to receive treatment.

A 3-week stay in the program, which can accommodate more than 100 patients, costs $5,100. Most patients also stay in a nearby hotel while participating in the program.

The Rice Diet will continue to offer a residential program in Durham when it reopens in January, Rosati said.

Other initiatives are designed to capitalize on the reforms now occurring within the health care industry. Federal health care reform is putting increased importance on “accountable care,” where the amount of reimbursements hospital systems receive from the government will be more tied to patient outcomes.

Rosati said the Rice Diet Program hopes to connect with hospitals that don’t have programs to treat patients suffering from chronic obesity, hypertension and diabetes. The program is also hoping to capitalize on the willingness of insurance companies and self-insured employers to cover some of the costs of wellness programs.

“The Rice Diet has this expertise but they’ve never engaged the employer community,” Rosati said. “Now they’re going to be offering wellness coaching to employers, starting out largely here in North Carolina.”

Rosati’s own company, Closed Loop Health, is also expected to feature content from the Rice Diet. Closed Loop Health is a social network that provides tools to help people better manage their health.

The Rice Diet first rose to prominence in the 1940s, and its success was instrumental in turning Durham into the “diet capital of the world.”

The program’s founder, Dr. Walter Kempner, had been a Duke University physician and began prescribing a diet of low salt and high carbohydrates to treat high blood pressure and kidney disease. Its benefits as a weight-loss regimen drew business titans, Hollywood stars and politicians.

Its early successes earned Duke millions, but the university ended its affiliation with the program in 2002. Today two of Rice Diet’s chief competitors, Duke Diet & Fitness Center and Duke’s Lifestyle Medicine Clinic, are affiliated with Duke University. .

Rosati said Rice Diet is now in talks with investors now about helping to finance the new initiatives. The program hopes to raise $250,000.

Bracken: 919-829-4548

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