HealthDay News — The incremental lifetime medical cost of an obese child compared to a normal-weight child who maintains normal weight throughout adulthood is roughly $19,000, according to researchers.

“To put these findings in perspective, multiplying the lifetime medical cost estimate of $19,000 times the number of obese 10-year-olds today generates a total direct medical cost of obesity of roughly $14 billion for this age alone,” Eric Andrew Finkelstein, PhD, from the Duke Global Health Institute in Durham, NC, and colleagues, reported in Pediatrics.

The researchers reviewed data from six studies published in the 15 years preceding May 2013. All costs were inflated for 2012 dollars and were discounted to reflect costs from the perspective of a 10-year-old child today.

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The incremental lifetime direct medical cost from the perspective of a 10-year-old obese child relative to a 10-year-old normal-weight child ranged from $12,660 to $19,630 when accounting for weight gain through adulthood among normal-weight children. The unadjusted range was $16,310 to $39,080.

Even the most conservative adjusted estimate of $12,660 the total direct medical cost for the same cohort of 10-year-olds would still be $9.4 billion. This is 62 times the 2012-2013 funding for the nationwide “Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program,” which was designed to increase consumption among school-aged children, the researchers pointed out.

As an additional comparison, the per capita cost of one year of college is roughly $16,930, including tuition, fees, books, room and board, they estimated. “Thus, each case of childhood obesity that could be prevented and maintained (at no cost) would allow for funding ≥1 year of a child’s college education,” the researchers wrote.

The medical cost-estimates included in the study do not account for obesity’s effect on quality of life and nonmedical costs, such as decreased productivity. The researchers called for additional research to assess the indirect costs of childhood obesity.


  1. Finkelsten EA et al. “Lifetime direct medical costs of childhood obesity.” Pediatrics. 2014;133:1-9.