Obesity costs $19,000 per child

Study examines financial burden of childhood obesity

The medical bills of an obese child will add up to about $19,000 more over a lifetime than those of a normal-weight child, according to a study in Pediatrics examining the long-term effects of growing childhood obesity rates in the United States.

What costs more: Obesity or smoking? Mayo Clinic says obesity

For the study, researchers from the Duke Global Health Institute analyzed CDC data on medical costs associated with childhood obesity, such as type 2 diabetes, cancer, and some heart problems. They found that, on average:

  • Being obese as a 10-year-old adds $19,000 to medical bills over a lifetime; and
  • Being a normal-weight child who becomes obese as an adult adds $12,660 to medical bills over a lifetime.

"While the cost estimates are significant, the motivation to prevent childhood obesity should be there regardless of the financial implications," says lead author Eric Finkelstein, adding researchers did not take into account other costs associated with obesity, such as absenteeism and lost productivity.

"Reducing childhood obesity is a public health priority that has substantial health and economic benefits," says Finkelstein, adding, "Public health interventions should be prioritized on their ability to improve health at a reasonable cost."

Moreover, reducing obesity in childhood is key because "most obese children and teenagers remain obese into adulthood," according to co-author Rahul Malhotra. More than one-third of U.S. children and teens are overweight or obese, according to CDC.

"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," Finklestein says (Ellis, Medical News Today, 4/7; Gordon, HealthDay, 4/7).

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