Kick'n the Can

Kicking a Trillion Dollar Can Down the Road

A briefing at the Brookings Institution this week brought the enormity of the bill coming due for childhood obesity in the U.S. into sharp focus. The cost of obesity for children who already have the condition in the U.S. will be more than a trillion dollars when they reach adulthood. In other words, as time passes without good options for treating obesity in children and adolescents, we’re kicking a trillion dollar can down the road.

Much effort goes into developing programs for preventing childhood obesity, but less is devoted to developing the systems and clinical tools for treating it. The gap is tremendous between the medical needs of the growing population of kids with severe obesity and the few clinical providers that are equipped to care for them.

A recent survey of children’s hospitals identified just 85 centers in the U.S. that are equipped to provide comprehensive weight management services to children and adolescents with significant obesity. Their caseload is growing and 84% of these programs are operating at a loss, because payers will not cover much of the care that these children need.

The result? Many children with serious obesity are left to live with their condition, with little access to the care they need to manage this chronic disease. Approximately 70% of children with obesity will become adults with obesity — in part because this is a chronic disease that is rarely cured and in part because childhood obesity efforts focus on prevention instead of care for the kids who are already affected.

Without really thinking about it, we’re running a tab for the medical costs of serious childhood obesity. The burden is growing and the disease is progressing in many children with few options for effective medical care.

The tab has surpassed a trillion dollars and it will continue to grow until we take the medical needs of kids and their families with obesity seriously.

Click here to read more in Modern Healthcare and here for slides from the presentation at Brookings. Click here for a report from the Children’s Hospital Association on services for advanced care of childhood obesity.

Kick’n the Can, photograph © Anthony / flickr

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