Over a lifetime, childhood obesity costs $19,000 per child

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, according to an analysis led by researchers at the Duke Global Health Institute and Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School in Singapore. When multiplied by the number of obese 10-year-olds in the United States, lifetime medical costs for this age alone reach roughly $14 billion.

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. The findings appear online April 7, 2014, in the journal Pediatrics.

“Reducing childhood obesity is a public health priority that has substantial health and economic benefits,” said lead author Eric Andrew Finkelstein, Ph.D., M.H.A. “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.

“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 study coauthor Rahul Malhotra, M.B.B.S., M.D., M.P.H.

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.

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

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3 thoughts on “Over a lifetime, childhood obesity costs $19,000 per child”

  1. I agree with C Rossouws post. Along with the emotional trauma that an obese child will indefinitely experience, parents should, too, be considering the many diseases, whether life altering or threatening, that result from obesity and the motivation in preventing childhood obesity should far extend the financial implications that follow.
    The risk increase for diseases resulting from obesity, range from Coronary Heart Disease, High Blood Pressure, Type 2 Diabetes, Abnormal Blood Fats, Metabolic Syndrome, Stroke, Cancers especially colon; breast; endometrial and gallbladder, Osteoarthritis, Reproductive Problems due to menstrual unfinished list, should instil more motivation in being determined to ensure the healthiness of your child and in preventing obesity. Surely these implications along with emotional trauma are enough? But the lack of education among parents, the availability of cheaper high in fat and sugar foods, the lack of adult supervision due to parents working full time, are just a few factors considerably contributing to the obesity rate and the shocking statistics of 1 in 5 children in the US being obese.
    Something this article successfully does, is provide another angle in order to motivate people to prevent the disease, which in my opinion is a new way of trying to reach through to parents across the world. It touches base on the financial implications as well. In this money driven, materialistic society that is only growing, perhaps scaring people with financial matters as they may have an effect on their ‘pockets’ will do the trick. The obesity rate is increasing at a rapid and appalling proportion and if the diseases, the life threatening emotional trauma, the negative effects on focus and energy of a child is not enough to put a stop to the destructive indulgent lifestyles coupled with the lack of exercise due to technology taking over many children’s afternoons, then hopefully financial repercussions will force parents to ensure the well-being of their children and ensure that education on the matter increases via adverts, in schools, in the workplace, at shopping centers etc.

  2. Finkelstein’s words at the end of the article are so true – “… the motivation to prevent childhood obesity should be there regardless of the financial implications.”
    This article highlights the financial impact of obese children. I just want to add that obese children pay a much higher emotional price than only the medical costs. Children as young as 6 years old are already trapped into the image that media sets of what is beautiful and what not. Children definitely believes that skinny people are more likable. According to pediatricians from the healthychildren.org website children’s conception of beautiful causes many obese children to have very low self-esteems and they are often bullied as a result of their low self-esteem. Depression is another result that follows after bullying and a lack of a social network. For these poor children food is their only comfort, so all they do is eat even more when they feel down.
    I think it is important to consider the emotional costs of obese children, not only the costs of psychologists but the cost of the emotional suffering they go through. This is something you can not really measure or put an exact price on, but people who have experienced this sort of emotional suffering would tell you the price is high!
    Therefore I think Finkelstein are correct when he says parents must prevent child obesity, regardless of the financial implications, because that is not all that comes with obesity. In order to side step many emotional and social problems, in this image obsessed world, prevent obesity the best you possibly can.

  3. Childhood obesity has reached astoundingly high levels over the past decade. This is due to a lack of physical activity, unawareness of the health consequences and poor eating habits.

    According to new research from Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) it has been found that it costs a family of four, on average, $1.50 more a day to follow a healthy diet than it would an unhealthy one. This works out to cost more than $2000 a year.
    One can then debate whether it is worth spending the money on following a healthy lifestyle to prevent obesity and in turn prevent the medical costs associated with it.

    It has been found in a new study that a diet high in fruits and vegetables not only leads to better physical health but it may also lower the risk of depression. While fast foods that may be momentarily satisfying, were shown to increase the chance of experiencing depression. According to the Consumer Health Report retail prices for commonly prescribed antidepressants range from $21 a month, and sometimes even less, to more than $1,000 a month.

    It is thus, in my opinion, worth it to spend the extra $2000 a year buying healthier groceries earlier on in one’s life than it is to spend $19,000 on the estimated lifetime medical costs associated with childhood obesity as well as effectively preventing depression and the costs this may incur.

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