Childhood Obesity Costs Kids – and All of US

It turns out childhood obesity isn’t just bad for kids—it’s bad for Indiana’s economy.

We know that childhood obesity increases the risk that children will experience avoidable disease and death when they grow up, diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.

Children enjoying an apple

Childhood obesity affects all age groups. Even toddlers are developing obesity more often than in the past, and the problem is worse among older kids.

Obesity and overweight can contribute to specific health problems. Some children now have diseases that we used to see only in adults—type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. When Jump IN asked researchers at Indiana University to look at Indiana health care costs among children from 2014-2016, we learned that obesity might have other effects on children’s health too.

Data graphic indicating the rise of childhood obesity over 40 years.

The research team at the Center for Health Policy at IU Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health found that health care for Hoosier children with obesity costs 7% more than health care for children who are at a healthy weight. Why? There’s not enough data to tell us for sure, but there could be several reasons.

Children with obesity might have certain health problems more often. For example, obesity makes it more difficult to keep asthma under control. It may also be that some children with obesity need extra services at the doctor’s office or in the hospital, even for common problems.

Just as children’s development varies as they grow, in some age groups and for some types of health care, there’s no difference in cost between children with obesity and children at a healthy weight.  However, emergency room visits were more expensive for children with obesity in almost all age groups—24% more expensive overall. And among 18- and 19-year-olds—Indiana’s young workforce—hospital care cost 36% more than for teens who are at a healthy weight. Employee health care costs are important to employers, so we hope Indiana companies will invest in a healthy workforce by partnering to reduce and prevent childhood obesity.

Data graphic showing the increase in cost for inpatient services for young adults with obesity.

Central Indiana cannot afford the extra health care costs of childhood obesity and the adult obesity that often follows. And our children don’t deserve the poor health and quality of life that obesity can lead to.