Why Is Childhood Obesity Our Business?

Personal responsibility isn’t enough; part 3 of 3 in a series

Earlier this month we discussed some of the complicated factors contributing to the childhood obesity epidemic, including dramatic shifts in physical activity  habits and nutrition.

Children with their teacher learning from a globe

Still, you may wonder, Isn’t weight a personal issue? Why is the entire community involved? Personal responsibility is important, but there’s more to consider.

Large Scale Problem

The size of central Indiana’s childhood obesity problem is enough to cause community concern. Across the nation, 20% of children suffer overweight or obesity, but in central Indiana our numbers are double at 40%.

That’s nearly a quarter million kids at unhealthy weights, or enough to fill Lucas Oil Stadium 3 times. If nothing changes, childhood obesity is projected to reach 53% by 2025.

Health Care Burden

Children who are at unhealthy weights are more likely than their peers to develop chronic lifelong health problems at early ages, including diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and some forms of cancer.

These diseases require frequent visits to medical facilities and can be expensive to treat. Additionally, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention states that at this rate, this generation may be the first to have a shorter life expectancy than its parents.

Children walking on a fallen log in the woods

High Cost

The community pays the cost for poor health—literally. A team of researchers 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 healthy weights. Why? There’s not enough data to tell us for sure.

The differences in health care costs for children with obesity and children at healthy weights are not apparent at all age groups and for all types of health care, but 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 costs 36% more for those with obesity.

Good News

Fortunately, we can do something about childhood obesity when we work together as a community.

Data from other communities throughout the country suggests that we can stop or even reverse the rising trend in prevalence rates if we increase public awareness and work collaboratively across sectors to embed healthy choices in schools, child care centers, youth-serving organizations, workplaces, and places of worship while simultaneously addressing the built environment challenges that plague many of our neighborhoods.

Data emerging from central Indiana confirms this. Recent analysis by Jump IN and its public health partners suggests that rates of childhood obesity may have flatlined over the past three years. We hope that additional data over time reveals an even greater impact. That’s what we’re working towards.

Children in school in front of a chalkboard