Thursday, July 1, 2010

More on obesity

The Baltimore Sun carried an article with some interesting figures on obesity and parent's perceptions.  The figures presented note that the prevalence of obesity increased in 28 states last year and that eight states now have a prevalence of obesity over 30 percent (up from four last year) while more than two thirds of states have an obesity prevalence rate above 25 percent which no state had two decades ago.

Does this affect health care spending on a year by year basis?  Yes.

Does it affect health care spending over an entire lifetime?  Maybe.  People who are not obese may live longer and die from things that are more chronic so it is not entirely clear.

Are there important economic consequences to obesity?  Well, the costs mentioned above and potentially absenteeism or presenteeism at work.  Some jobs that may not be as easy or as safe as for non-obese individuals.  We could probably think of a few others.

What is most interesting in this article is near the middle.  Over one-third of children and teens are obese or overweight.  Yet, 84 percent of parents believe that their children are at a healthy weight--the issue may be with those who are only overweight and not obese.  Additionally, 80 percent of adults polled believe that childhood obesity is a problem.

For any method that we find to decrease the prevalence of obesity to be cost-effective (i.e. maybe cost saving, and if it is cost-increasing it brings enough additional health to make the extra spending worthwhile) is going to have to consider the difference between knowledge of the issue, perception about how a person or a person's family is affected by the issue, and related behavior.  Anyone wishing to study the potential cost-effectiveness of interventions will have to carefully consider whom to target; how to measure changes in knowledge, attitudes and behavior; how long to track the targeted population; and how to gather data on all the possible impacts of a healthy weight.


  1. Giving the above statistics on parental perceptions on childhood obesity and knowing that perceptions are also constantly changing, would we want to consider measuring changes in perceptions as well? Or would a measure of knowledge change suffice for that?

  2. Mudiaga is right,
    I think that if we consider the gap between realty and parent's attitude toward this serious problem, we have to direct our interventions toward parent's behavioral change rather than facing the problem per se,
    Nadia Younis

  3. You both have made good comments. A key to consider is how much changing perceptions is key to almost every public health intervention.