Duke University researchers have come up with dollar figure for the lifetime per-person healthcare costs of obesity: $19,000.
According to the analysis led by researchers at the Duke Global Health Institute and Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School in Singapore, that's the estimated price tag for medical care for an obese child, compared to a normal weight child, over his or her lifetime.
When multiplied by the number of obese 10-year-olds in the United States, costs for this age alone add up to roughly $14 billion, Medical Xpress
The researchers, who detailed their findings in the journal Pediatrics, noted obesity is a known risk factor for a wide range of diseases, including cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes and certain cancers. One in three adults and one in five children in the United States are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"Reducing childhood obesity is a public health priority that has substantial health and economic benefits," said lead researcher Eric Andrew Finkelstein. "These estimates provide the financial consequences of inaction and the potential medical savings from obesity prevention efforts that successfully reduce or delay obesity onset.
"Public health interventions should be prioritized on their ability to improve health at a reasonable cost. 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."
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, the researchers noted.
To come up with their estimate, the researchers calculated only direct medical costs for obesity, such as doctors' visits and medication, and did 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 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."
The study was funded, in part, by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
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