Childhood Obesity Increases Financial Stress
April 7, 2014

The True Cost Of Childhood Obesity

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

In addition to the increased risk for medical issues such as diabetes, childhood obesity can increase financial stress on a family.

According to a new study published on Monday in the journal Pediatrics, childhood obesity costs about $19,000 per child when considering lifetime medical costs compared to those for a child with a healthy weight. This cost of obesity reaches about $14 billion, when multiplied by the number of obese 10-year-olds in the United States.

The study team noted that the cost per child is reduced to $12,900 for a healthy-weight child that becomes overweight later in life.

"Reducing childhood obesity is a public health priority that has substantial health and economic benefits," said lead author Eric Andrew Finkelstein, a research economist at the Duke Global Health Institute in Durham, North Carolina. "These estimates provide the financial consequences of inaction and the potential medical savings from obesity prevention efforts that successfully reduce or delay obesity onset."

A preventable condition, obesity is a major risk factor for a wide range of diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers. About one in three US adults and one in five US children are obese, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Addressing obesity in adults requires efforts to prevent or reduce obesity among children, as research has shown most obese children and teenagers remain obese into adulthood," said Dr. Rahul Malhotra, a study co-author and health systems researcher at Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School in Singapore.

In explaining the motivation for their study, the Duke researchers said public policy and prevention efforts need to be informed regarding the costs of childhood obesity.

"Public health interventions should be prioritized on their ability to improve health at a reasonable cost," Finkelstein said. "In order to understand the cost implications of obesity prevention efforts, it is necessary to accurately quantify the burden of childhood obesity if left untreated."

To reach their estimate, the study team examined and revised the current evidence on life-long costs of childhood obesity. The team calculated a $19,000 estimate as the lifetime medical cost of an obese child, compared to a child of healthy weight who keeps to an ideal weight for the duration of their adult life. They calculated an estimate of $12,900 per obese child when taking into consideration the potential for healthy-weight children becoming overweight or obese in adulthood.

The researchers noted that their study measures direct treatment costs for obesity and does not take into account indirect costs, such as lost time and lost productivity in working adults. Additional research is needed to estimate indirect costs, the study team said, adding that there are more reasons to study childhood obesity other than financial costs.

"For the same reasons we don't let kids drink or smoke and force them to go to school, we should also do our best to keep them at a healthy weight," Finkelstein said. "While the cost estimates are significant, the motivation to prevent childhood obesity should be there regardless of the financial implications."