The impact of childhood obesity

The prevalence of childhood obesity has tripled over the past forty years, and an estimated 28 percent of Missouri children are overweight or obese. Children with obesity suffer significant medical and psychosocial effects, and 80 percent will remain obese in adulthood, increasing risk for multiple life-threatening diseases. Childhood obesity is associated with lower self-esteem, poorer academic performance and decreased earning potential. Increasing rates of obesity are also an issue of homeland security; the fraction of age-eligible civilians exceeding the weight and fat standards for admission into the military has more than doubled for men and nearly quadrupled for women between 1959 and 2010. Missouri’s total health-care costs related to obesity are projected to be $12 billion annually by 2030. If obesity can be decreased by 5 percent, it is projected that Missouri would experience a cumulative savings of $13.4 billion in obesity-related health care costs by 2030.

The committee’s formation and purpose

In April 2013, the Children’s Services Commission heard testimony on childhood obesity and the need for improved access to care. In response to this, it created the Subcommittee on Childhood Obesity to compile recommendations to reverse Missouri’s spiraling health care costs and improve the well-being of children. The purposes of the subcommittee, which Dr. Wilfley co-chairs, are to:

  • Review the issue of childhood obesity, the evidence for effective approaches to prevent and treat it, Missouri’s current approaches and the gaps in services and resources
  • Compile recommendations to create a comprehensive approach that includes access to treatment in Missouri that will fill identified gaps and decrease prevalence of obesity
  • Present the report and recommendations to the Missouri Children’s Service Commission which will in turn inform the Governor and General Assembly

Five priority recommendations have been compiled and vetted across the state on prevention in early childcare and schools, treatment, centers of excellence and Commission on Child Health and Wellness. At this time, a full report providing support and rationale for each recommendation is being written. These priority recommendations and supporting report will be considered by the Missouri General Assembly for legislative action to prevent and treat childhood obesity.