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How socioeconomic factors affect childhood obesity.

September isn’t just the start of fall - it's also childhood obesity month. Childhood obesity is such a widespread issue that it’s been classified as an epidemic - over 13.5 million children and adolescents, aged 2 to 19 years old are classified as obese. Many of them are likely to remain obese as adults, putting them at higher risks for other health complications such as coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, gallbladder disease, and even death. One of the biggest factors that contribute to childhood obesity is the lack of healthcare access an astonishing amount of these children have due to their socioeconomic status.


Because of high healthcare costs, getting medical attention for children with obesity is challenging. As a resulting implication, more children are likely to remain obese, causing cardiac health and weight complications to persist throughout adulthood. Costs only get higher and complications only increase to the point where the problems accumulate and it becomes a downhill spiral. The increased medical expenses and frequent trips to the ER do nothing to decrease the hefty price tags on treatments. One study has even shown that obesity costs have risen from $125.9 million to $237.6 million between 2001 and 2005 because the hospitalization rate relating to obesity nearly doubled.


Arguably, the biggest portion of childhood obesity expenses goes towards Medicaid spending. Medicaid is generally used by individuals who make very low income, and whose families cannot afford to spend money on a healthier lifestyle. They purchase cheaper, processed foods instead - one of the main negatively contributing factors in this health crisis. As healthcare costs related to obesity increase, more families cannot provide healthier foods for themselves, causing the cycle to continue. These people have been put in a compromising situation by a system that fails to provide affordable recovery plans. Households with lower incomes are affected by this cycle even more, as they cannot provide quality meals to their children. In 2016, the University of Michigan conducted a study showing a positive correlation between poverty and the rate of obesity in low-income communities. Researchers used a model created from data on 111,799 students in 68 of its public school districts. They compared the percentage of students who were overweight or obese to the percentage of students (based on district) who were eligible for free/reduced price lunch to see how the issue related to people with lower income status, and found that “among the school districts for every 1 percent increase in low income status there was a 1.17 percent increase in rates of overweight/obese students.” There is clear evidence that these high healthcare costs related to child obesity have a huge impact on low income households, many of which already have a hard time providing their children a healthy lifestyle. 


Alongside the socioeconomic factors and high prices of health care, there are many other circumstances that influence child obesity. Genetics, lack of exercise, eating disorders, and geographical problems are a few to name. Many of these families have a hard time getting the proper help because of the high costs, and as these expenses add up, it keeps continuing downwards. All these different causes add up to one large effect that has impacted so many families in our nation, which is why spreading awareness is very important to understanding how we can help prevent this epidemic from getting worse.


“Adult Obesity Causes & Consequences.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 17 Sept. 2020,

Arbor, Ann. “Low-Income Communities More Likely to Face Childhood Obesity.” Low-Income Communities More Likely to Face Childhood Obesity | Michigan Medicine, 7 Jan. 2016,

“Childhood Obesity Facts.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 24 June 2019,

“Childhood Obesity.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 5 Dec. 2018,

“Childhood Obesity: A Lifelong Threat to Health.” Health Policy Institute, 13 Feb. 2019,


Trasande, Leonardo, et al. “Effects of Childhood Obesity on Hospital Care and Costs, 1999-2005.” Health Affairs (Project Hope), U.S. National Library of Medicine,

Wilfley, Denise E, et al. “Improving Access and Systems of Care for Evidence-Based Childhood Obesity Treatment: Conference Key Findings and next Steps.” Obesity (Silver Spring, Md.), U.S. National Library of Medicine, Jan. 2017,

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