Obese preschoolers have 60 percent higher health care costs than healthy weight children, according to a new study by the University of Sydney's School of Public Health. The study, published in the medical journal Obesity, also found that obese children between the ages of 2 and 5 are twice as likely to be admitted to a hospital.
According to News Medical, this is the first study to show the higher health care costs of obesity in young children.
The study looked at 350 children and tracked their doctor and specialist visits, medical tests, diagnostics, medicines, hospital admissions and emergency room visits. Obese children had much higher health care costs than their healthy weight counterparts, and also were much more likely to be admitted to a hospital -- especially for respiratory disorders and diseases of the ear, nose, mouth and throat.
"Childhood obesity is a serious public health issue, and is becoming an increasing problem in children under 5 years old," said lead researcher Alison Hayes.
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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 6 American children are obese. In the last 30 years, obesity has doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents. Those who are obese as children are more likely to be obese as adults and therefore are more susceptible to heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, stroke and other fatal diseases.
Early prevention of obesity is essential to improve a child's health but also to reduce health care costs, News Medical reports. By putting more money in obesity prevention, it's more likely that long-term health care costs will decrease.
The CDC states that a child's dietary habits are influenced by their families, communities, schools and the media. By encouraging these institutions, but especially schools, to teach healthy behaviors, it's possible to prevent large-scale childhood obesity.
"Our results are important for health care funders and policy-makers because preventing obesity in the early childhood years may be a cost-effective way to tackle the obesity crisis, improve the nation's health and reduce the economic burden of obesity," said Hayes.