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Health Care Costs Higher for Obese Children
Written by Jeanne Bohm, Ph.D.   

Children who are overweight have higher health care utilization and significantly higher health care charges than their normal weight peers, according to a report in the January issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

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Thirty percent of children in the United States are obese or overweight with more than half having at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease and 25 percent having more than two risk factors for the disease. More than 80 percent of obese 12-year-olds will continue to be overweight as adults.

Sarah E. Hampl, M.D., and colleagues at the University of Missouri–Kansas City School of Medicine analyzed data from 8,404 patients age 5 to 18 who attended a primary care clinic in the Midwest for well-child care visits during 2002 and 2003. Body mass index (BMI) was calculated and four weight categories were used in the study: patients with a BMI in the 95th percentile or higher for their age and sex diagnosed as obese, patients with a BMI in the 95th percentile or higher for their age and sex without a diagnosis of obesity, patients with BMI between the 85th and 94th percentiles classified as overweight and patients with BMIs lower than the 85th percentile classified as healthy weight. Health care resource utilization was measured which occurred within a year from each patient’s initial visit. Health care expenditures were determined by charge data available through the billing system of health care resources.

Based on the patients’ BMI, 17.8 percent were overweight and 21.9 percent were obese. Of the obese children, only 42.9 percent were diagnosed as obese, suggesting a significant rate of underdiagnosis.

The authors observed that obese older females who were insured by Medicaid were more likely to be diagnosed with obesity. There was a significantly higher rate of utilization of laboratory services by overweight and obese children when compared to their healthy-weight peers. The increase was most notable for children with diagnosed obesity. The researchers believe this reflects physician compliance with recommendations for laboratory evaluation of obese children which represented a average adjusted difference of $172.

The authors concluded that increased healthcare utilization in obese children is likely due to primary care physicians attempting to detect and treat comorbid conditions.


JAMA and Archives Media Release

Resource Utilization and Expenditures for Overweight and Obese Children: Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2007;161:11-14.

About the Author

Jeanne Bohm, Ph.D. is a cancer biologist by training, a medical writer and an experienced science educator.

The author has no financial relationship to any of the companies listed in the article.

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