Childhood obesity in US comes with estimated price tag of US$19,000/child when comparing lifetime medical costs to those of a normal-weight child, according to new study

CHICAGO , April 8, 2014 (press release) – A study published in Pediatrics shows that childhood obesity comes with an estimated price tag of $19,000 per child when comparing lifetime medical costs to those of a normal weight child. An alternative estimate, which takes into account the possibility of normal weight children gaining weight in adulthood, reduces the cost to $12,900 per obese child.

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

Obesity is a known risk factor for a wide range of diseases, including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers. Roughly one in three adults and one in five children in the United States are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While some progress has been made in lowering obesity rates in children within certain age groups and regions, childhood obesity remains a significant health problem.

To determine a current estimate for lifetime medical costs, the researchers evaluated and updated the existing evidence on lifetime costs of childhood obesity. Based on this evidence, the researchers recommend using $19,000 as the estimated lifetime medical cost of an obese child when compared with a child of normal weight who maintains a normal weight throughout adult life, and $12,900 per obese child when considering the possibility of normal weight children becoming overweight or obese in adulthood.

The researchers noted that their study measures direct medical costs for obesity, such as doctors’ visits and medication, and does not take into account indirect costs, including absenteeism and lost productivity in working adults. Additional research is needed to estimate indirect costs. They also noted that cost is only one reason to address childhood obesity.

“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,” said Finkelstein. “While the cost estimates are significant, the motivation to prevent childhood obesity should be there regardless of the financial implications.”

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