Childhood Obesity's Staggering Price Tag: Almost $20,000 per Child

New research pinpoints the financial burden caused by health conditions associated with being overweight at a young age.

Childhood Obesity's Staggering Price Tag: Almost $20,000 per Child

Along with dangerous health risks, the childhood obesity epidemic has another costly impact, adding up to $19,000 per child. (Photo: Reuters/Bobby Yip)

Liana Aghajanian is TakePart's weekend editor. Her work has appeared in ForeignPolicy.com, BBC.com, Los Angeles Times, and TheAtlantic.com.

Doctors have been warning us for years about the effects of childhood obesity, which has been rising since the 1970s. Kids who are obese have nearly twice the risk of such health problems as learning disabilities, asthma, and joint issues. 

But for the first time, the costs of the condition, called “one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century" by the World Health Organization, have been quantified by researchers. The findings are shocking: The epidemic has an estimated $19,000 per child price tag.

The cost analysis was led by researchers at the Duke Global Health Institute and Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School in Singapore, who measured direct medical costs, such as doctors’ visits and medication. Additional costs, such as lost productivity due to obesity, were not included.

The figure becomes more frightening when the number of obese children in the U.S. is taken into account: lifetime medical costs for 10-year-olds alone reach $14 billion.

With this new research, the incentive to reduce childhood obesity comes with economic benefits in addition to health, said Eric Andrew Finkelstein, the lead author of the study. 

“These estimates provide the financial consequences of inaction and the potential medical savings from obesity prevention efforts that successfully reduce or delay obesity onset,” he said.

Though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released numbers last year touting a surprising 43 percent drop in obesity rates among two- to five-year-olds in the last decade, they don't take into account the bigger picture. Obesity rates still go up as children age. The condition is also associated with premature death later in life and remains a global epidemic, with rising rates in Asia, Latin America, and Africa.

Globalization has made the world wealthier, and wealth and weight are linked, according to the Harvard School of Public Health.

If you’re curious about reducing the medical or financial impact of obesity in your children, the Childhood Obesity Foundation’s compilation of tools for checking healthy weight is a good starting point.

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