An estimate of the lifetime medical costs of an obese child provides a benchmark of the potential per capita savings that could accrue from successful childhood obesity prevention efforts. We reviewed the literature to identify the best current estimate of the incremental lifetime per capita medical cost of an obese child in the United States today relative to a normal weight child.
We searched PubMed and Web of Science for US-based studies published within the 15 years preceding May 2013 from which lifetime medical cost estimates can be extracted or imputed. Two reviewers independently screened search results and extracted data from eligible articles. All estimates were inflated to 2012 dollars and discounted to reflect costs from the perspective of a 10-year-old child today.
We identified 6 studies. The incremental lifetime direct medical cost from the perspective of a 10-year-old obese child relative to a 10-year-old normal weight child ranges from $12 660 to $19 630 when weight gain through adulthood among normal weight children is accounted for and from $16 310 to $39 080 when this adjustment is not made.
We recommend use of an estimate of $19 000 as the incremental lifetime medical cost of an obese child relative to a normal weight child who maintains normal weight throughout adulthood. The alternative estimate, which considers the reality of eventual weight gain among normal weight youth, is $12 660. Additional research is needed to include estimates of indirect costs of childhood obesity.