The impact of obesity on health service utilization and costs in childhood
Most studies of the economic costs of childhood obesity have focused upon hospitalization for comorbidities of obesity, whereas increased expenditures may also be the result of additional outpatient/emergency room visits or prescription drug expenditures. To quantify the magnitude of increased health-care utilization and expenditures among overweight and obese children, we performed descriptive, bivariate, and multivariable analyses on data from 6- to 19-year olds in the 2002-2005 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS), a national probability survey of the noninstitutionalized civilian population in the United States. Compared with normal/underweight children, we found that children who were obese during both years of the MEPS had USD194 higher outpatient visit expenditures, USD114 higher prescription drug expenditures, and USD12 higher emergency room expenditures. Children who were overweight during both years, or overweight in one year and obese in the other had USD79 higher outpatient visit expenditures, USD64 higher prescription drug expenditures, and USD25 higher emergency room expenditures than normal/underweight children. Significantly, increased utilization was noted for outpatient visits, prescription drug use, and emergency room visits. Increased costs and utilization were concentrated among adolescents, though 6-11-year-old children who were obese in both years did have more outpatient visits and expenditures than other children. Extrapolated to the nation, elevated BMI in childhood was associated with USD14.1 billion in additional prescription drug, emergency room, and outpatient visit costs annually. Although further research is needed to identify effective interventions, the immediate economic consequences of childhood obesity are much greater than previously realized, and further reinforce efforts to prevent this major comorbidity are needed.