Objective: To estimate lifetime cost effectiveness of lifestyle interventions to treat overweight and obese children, from the UK National Health Service perspective.
Design: An adaptation of the National Heart Forum economic model to predict lifetime health service costs and outcomes of lifestyle interventions on obesity-related diseases.
Setting: Hospital or community-based weight-management programmes.
Population: Hypothetical cohorts of overweight or obese children based on body mass data from the National Child Measurement Programme.
Interventions: Lifestyle interventions that have been compared with no or minimal intervention in randomized controlled trials (RCTs).
Main outcome measures: Reduction in body mass index (BMI) standard deviation score (SDS), intervention resources/costs, lifetime treatment costs, obesity-related diseases and cost per life year gained.
Results: Ten RCTs were identified by our search strategy. The median effect of interventions versus control from these 10 RCTs was a difference in BMI SDS of -0.13 at 12 months, but the range in effects among interventions was broad (0.04 to -0.60). Indicative costs per child of these interventions ranged from £108 to £662. For obese children aged 10-11 years, an intervention that resulted in a median reduction in BMI SDS at 12 months at a moderate cost of £400 increased life expectancy by 0.19 years and intervention costs were offset by subsequent undiscounted savings in treatment costs (net saving of £110 per child), though this saving did not emerge until the sixth or seventh decade of life. The discounted cost per life year gained was £13 589. Results were broadly similar for interventions aimed at children aged 4-5 years and which targeted both obese and overweight children. For more costly interventions, savings were less likely.
Conclusion: Interventions to treat childhood obesity are potentially cost effective although cost savings and health benefits may not appear until the sixth or seventh decade of life.