TIME Obesity

This Is How Much Childhood Obesity Costs Over a Lifetime

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Maria Pavlova—Getty Images

Medical costs add up to a hefty price tag

It’s no surprise that obesity takes a toll on our health and bank accounts, but a new study has boiled down just how costly the epidemic is over a lifetime.

The price tag comes out to $19,000 per child, according to researchers from Duke Global Health Institute and Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School in Singapore, who published their findings in the journal Pediatrics. When that cost is multiplied by the actual number of obese 10-year-olds in the U.S., the lifetime medical costs for just this population reaches about $14 billion.

Researchers determined the cost of childhood obesity by analyzing existing medical data and costs related to obesity, and comparing it with the costs for normal-weight children who stay a normal weight into adulthood. Obesity can lead to cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes and certain cancers. Payment for doctors’ appointments and medications were taken into account, but not costs like lost productivity as working adults or other indirect costs. When calculating for some normal-weight children becoming obese as they age, the cost of childhood obesity came out to $12,900.

“Reducing childhood obesity is a public-health priority that has substantial health and economic benefits,” said lead author 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.”

Childhood is an important time to target obesity, as most obese children remain obese into adulthood. The most recent obesity numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, though, are promising, reflecting that obesity rates among 2- to 5-year-olds dropped 43% in the past decade. At the same time, obesity overall in the U.S. remained relatively unchanged.

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