Three Interventions That Reduce Childhood Obesity Are Projected To Save More Than They Cost To Implement

Health Aff (Millwood). 2015 Nov;34(11):1932-9. doi: 10.1377/hlthaff.2015.0631.


Policy makers seeking to reduce childhood obesity must prioritize investment in treatment and primary prevention. We estimated the cost-effectiveness of seven interventions high on the obesity policy agenda: a sugar-sweetened beverage excise tax; elimination of the tax subsidy for advertising unhealthy food to children; restaurant menu calorie labeling; nutrition standards for school meals; nutrition standards for all other food and beverages sold in schools; improved early care and education; and increased access to adolescent bariatric surgery. We used systematic reviews and a microsimulation model of national implementation of the interventions over the period 2015-25 to estimate their impact on obesity prevalence and their cost-effectiveness for reducing the body mass index of individuals. In our model, three of the seven interventions--excise tax, elimination of the tax deduction, and nutrition standards for food and beverages sold in schools outside of meals--saved more in health care costs than they cost to implement. Each of the three interventions prevented 129,000-576,000 cases of childhood obesity in 2025. Adolescent bariatric surgery had a negligible impact on obesity prevalence. Our results highlight the importance of primary prevention for policy makers aiming to reduce childhood obesity.

Keywords: Children’s Health; Health Promotion/Disease Prevention.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Health Promotion / economics*
  • Humans
  • Pediatric Obesity / prevention & control*
  • Policy Making*
  • United States