Reducing adolescent obesity has long-term impact

June 1, 2010

Increased prevalence of overweight and obesity has led to many intervention programs promoting prevention.

The increased prevalence of overweight and obesity in children and teens has led to a proliferation of intervention programs aimed at prevention and reduction of overweight. Given that the long-term effect of these programs is unknown, investigators used data from the 2000 National Medical Expenditure Panel Survey and estimates from published studies to project the potential long-term health and economic impact of a small, hypothetical reduction in the prevalence of overweight and obesity among adolescents.

The authors developed a body mass index progression model to gauge the effect of a 1% reduction in prevalence of both overweight and obesity in adolescents currently aged 16 to 17 years on the number of normal weight, overweight, and obese adults at 40 years of age. They also estimated the 1% reduction's effect on lifetime medical costs and quality-adjusted life-years (QALYs) after age 40.

The researchers found that the 1% reduction in prevalence of obesity and overweight among current 16- to 17-year-olds could decrease the number of obese adults in the more than 8 million study group by about 52,800 in the future. They estimate that this reduction would decrease the group's lifetime medical care costs after age 40 by $586 million ($73 per capita). In addition, lifetime QALYs would increase by 47,138 (0.0059 per capita) (Wang LY, et al. J Adolesc Health. 2010;46[5]:467-473).

The results of this complicated math problem offer a strong argument for funding research in prevention and treatment of adolescent obesity and then for large-scale implementation of interventions that work. We can pay for these things now, or we can pay (in healthcare dollars and quality of life) later.-MB