As Childhood Obesity Rises in UK, US, Australia, So Do Costs

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

As if the obesity epidemic isn't on pace to take a big enough toll already, now researchers have found that it creates a financial burden as well. Almost one out of every four kids in Australia is overweight or obese by the time they enter school, and the problem is costing the country millions every year.

"Childhood obesity is a serious public health issue, and is becoming an increasing problem in children under five years old," said the study's lead researcher Alison Hayes, associate professor of health economics at the University, in a statement. "In addition to the health impacts of childhood obesity, there are major economic impacts, which may occur earlier than previously thought."

Medical Daily's Samantha Olson reports the study was published in the journal Obesity. Researchers from the University of Sydney in Australia collected the medical tests, medicines, diagnostics, and hospital admission information of 350 Australian youngsters aged two-, three and a half-, and five-years-old.

The researchers found that health care costs for preschoolers who were obese were 60% higher than the same costs for healthy children. Obese kids were also two to three times as likely to be hospitalized for respiratory disorders and ear, mouth, nose, and throat illnesses.

Hayes added that if obesity could be prevented early in a child's development, not only would it mean improved health for the young one, but it would also be likely to result in savings in healthcare costs. Preventing obesity in childhood would be cost-effective and would also improve the country's overall health.

Globally, explained Hayes, 6.9% of children under the age of five are overweight or obese. However, in the US, Australia, and the UK, the rates have increased to as much as 23%. The CDC reports that in the past 30 years, US obesity in kids has doubled and in adolescents had quadrupled.

Most recently, estimated annual medical costs for adults who are obese were $1,429 higher than costs for adults who are of normal weight. The Obesity Society points out that overweight or obese preschoolers are five times as apt to grow up to be overweight or obese.

Research from last year found that the average American woman currently weighs as much as an average US man in the 1960s, although the average height for US citizens has increased by only one inch. This dilemma is a result of too many calories and not enough exercise, writes Hank Campbell for the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH).

Many diseases are related to lifestyle causes such as alcohol, smoking, and calorie intake. The ACSH writer says the manner by which people become obese is by eating too much fast food — and in an Affordable Care Act world, taxpayers will be paying for the treatment of those who are unhealthy.

Obesity is an easy problem to prevent, says Campbell. Kids are born wanting to be active, and parents control purchases. Make sugary treats just that — a treat. He adds:

"We have created an America our ancestors always wanted for us, where science and technology led to food being so cheap and plentiful the poorest people can afford to be fat, now we have to make sure our cultural maturity matches our innovation."

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