Taxes on sugary drinks and unhealthy food advertising to kids may save more than $30 in health care costs for every dollar spent to implement, suggests a new study published this month.
Childhood obesity rates are nudging upwards, which means more kids are at risk for obesity in adulthood. With this extra weight comes increased risk for cancer, heart disease, and diabetes, as well as the high costs of health care that come with these diseases.
The new study used previous research to analyze the cost effectiveness and impact on childhood obesity of 7 proposed interventions. Six of the interventions aimed to prevent weight gain in youth while one involved surgical treatment of obesity. With the help of policy makers and other experts, study authors estimated the the effect of each intervention among the US population over the 10 years spanning 2015 to 2025.
Overall, five strategies were found to decrease incidence of childhood obesity (see chart) with three saving more in healthcare costs than they cost to implement.
One strategy was a tax on sugary beverages. The proposed tax, translating to 12 cents for a can of soda, would prevent an estimated 576,000 children from being obese and save $30 for every dollar it cost to enact.
Another effective strategy was to create nutrition standards for school snacks, fundraisers and other foods sold outside of school meals. This would prevent an estimated 345,00 cases of childhood obesity, saving about $4.50 for every dollar it costs.
Nutrition standards for school meals was found to prevent the most cases of childhood obesity — approximately 1.8 million cases — yet this strategy cost about 60 cents more to implement than it would save in healthcare costs.
These results demonstrate the importance and feasibility of prevention measures to reduce childhood obesity, note the authors. The sugar sweetened beverage tax and taxing advertising would also provide revenue that would offset the costs of other prevention efforts, such as nutrition standards for school meals. Future studies are needed to assess the cumulative impact and costs of these interventions.
This study was funded by The JPB Foundation, The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Donald and Sue Pritzker Nutrition and Fitness Initiative, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.