An economic perspective on childhood obesity: recent findings on cost of illness and cost effectiveness of interventions

Nutrition. 2012 Sep;28(9):829-39. doi: 10.1016/j.nut.2011.11.016. Epub 2012 Mar 26.


Objective: This review aims to put an economic perspective on childhood and adolescent obesity by providing an overview on the latest literature on obesity-related costs and the cost effectiveness of interventions to prevent or manage the problem.

Methods: The review is based on a comprehensive PubMed/Medline search performed in October 2011.

Results: Findings on the economic burden of childhood obesity are inconclusive. Considering the different cost components and age groups, most but not all studies found excess health care costs for obese compared with normal-weight peers. The main limitations relate to short study periods and the strong focus on health care costs, neglecting other components of the economic burden of childhood obesity. The results of the economic evaluations of childhood and adolescent obesity programs support the expectation that preventive and management interventions with acceptable cost effectiveness do exist. Some interventions may even be cost saving. However, owing to the differences in various methodologic aspects, it is difficult to compare preventive and treatment approaches in their cost effectiveness or to determine the most cost-effective timing of preventive interventions during infancy and adolescence.

Conclusion: To design effective public policies against the obesity epidemic, a better understanding and a more precise assessment of the health care costs and the broader economic burden are necessary but, critically, depend on the collection of additional longitudinal data. The economic evaluation of childhood obesity interventions poses various methodologic challenges, which should be addressed in future research to fully use the potential of economic evaluation as an aid to decision making.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Cost of Illness
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Delivery of Health Care / economics*
  • Health Care Costs*
  • Humans
  • Obesity / economics*
  • Obesity / prevention & control
  • Obesity / therapy