A study estimates that fat children will have $19,000 more in direct medical costs over their lifetime than their non-fat peers.
The Results section of the study states:
The incremental lifetime direct medical cost from the perspective of a 10-year-old obese child relative to a 10-year-old normal weight child ranges from $12,660 to $19,630 when weight gain through adulthood among normal weight children is accounted for and from $16,310 to $39,080 when this adjustment is not made.
So if you assume the fat children will stay fat and the non-fat children will not become fat the additional direct medical costs range is $16,310 to $39,080.
If you assume the fat children will stay fat and some (I don’t know what percentages they used) of the non-fat children will become fat, the additional direct medical costs range is $12,660 to $19,630.
Like most studies of this kind, there’s just a whole lot of “ifs” going on. While they adjust for some of those non-fat 10-year olds becoming fat, not all those fat 10-year olds will stay fat. Puberty does all kinds of things to bodies.
Next, they may are assuming fat equals unhealthy. A cursory look at the paper, it seems the “Obesity Paradox” is ignored, and so is the fact that people who are in the “overweight” BMI range tend to have the lowest mortality rates.
Next, how do you predict changes in medical expenses? Those costs have sky rocketed. Will they continue to do so? How will the Affordable Health Care Act change medical expenses? How do you predict improvements in medical treatments?
A couple of other questions come to my mind when reading this study. First, what’s the baseline for the lifetime cost of healthcare? If this is a $12k to $16k increase and the average lifetime cost for the non-fat is $300k, then it’s a modest increase, and should be compared with other things that cause similar increases. Second, what’s the extra money spent on? If it’s spent on failed weight loss attempts, then there’s a quick fix: don’t make those attempts.
Keep in mind that although even $12k is a lot of money, we’re talking about lifetime costs, so if the 10-year old kid lives to age 80, that’s 70 years, and taking the mean value of $14k, $200/per year. Less scary. And as I said above, we should look at other factors that cause healthcare increases, and compare these number with those.
But what bugs me the most is the final sentence of the conclusion:
Additional research is needed to include estimates of indirect costs of childhood obesity.
What is the benefit of this kind of research? It seems to me, the purpose would be to give more ammunition to the fat-haters out there. In other words, the additional costs in this study aren’t high enough to create enough prejudice against fat people (and fat children in particular); we need to pump up those numbers folks!
Instead, how about additional research is needed to find ways to improve the health of all children, fat and non-fat?
How about that?