The Affordable Care Act: Preventing Childhood Obesity

This post is part of a weekly “Did You Know” blog series that highlights important, but not well known features of the health reform law about prevention, wellness, and personal responsibility for our health. 

Obese ChildDid you know that the Affordable Care Act contains measures that are designed to reverse the childhood obesity epidemic?

Today, one third of America’s youth is overweight or obese. Childhood obesity is becoming a serious threat to the health and well being of our  youth, as well as the nation’s health care spending and overall economy. Some experts are saying that today’s kids could be the first generation to not outlive their parents. This shocking news is directly related to the alarming, growing prevalence of obesity in American children and the associated severe health risks. Fortunately, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is taking the lead to combat this problem so that our country can raise a healthy children and rein in the costs associated with preventable, weight-related health conditions.

Rates of childhood obesity have tripled in the last three decades. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), total annual costs for childhood obesity amount to $3 billion. Overweight and obese children are 70 to 80 percent more likely to become overweight or obese adults, and the total annual cost of obesity in America, including expenditures like hospital bills, prescription drugs, and lost productivity in the workplace, is up to $147 billion. The cost of hospitalization alone related to childhood obesity grew from $125.9 million in 2001 to $237.6 million in 2005

Overweight and obese children have a higher risk of developing costly chronic health conditions like high cholesterol, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and depression. Developing weight-related chronic health conditions at a young age can cause a lifetime of health complications and result in a shorter life span. In fact, research shows that children with Type 2 diabetes are less likely to graduate high school and attend college than their healthy counterparts, earn less in wages throughout their lives, and have shorter life spans.

Because obesity and the health risks associated with it are largely preventable, health reform is consistently focused on cost-effective, preventive health interventions. Currently, the Obesity Demonstration Project, created by the ACA, is funding community-based efforts that employ proven, effective health care and community strategies aimed preventing childhood obesity.  

Thanks to the health reform law, insurance companies are required to cover a set of preventive health care services specific to children’s health needs without charging a co-payment or deductible. This access to free, preventive children’s health care is available to any person with a new or non-grandfathered health plan, and is making it affordable for millions of parents to ensure their children are avoiding weight-related health problems and other preventable chronic health conditions. Services like blood pressure screening, depression and obesity screening and counseling, and height, weight and body mass index measurements, among others, are included in this significant ACA mandate.

Additionally, First Lady Michelle Obama created the Let’s Move! campaign, based on her goals of reversing the obesity trend in one generation and giving parents and children the tools they need to stay active and healthy. Let’s Move! is an initiative that is bringing healthy living awareness and education to parents, creating opportunities for children to become more physically active, and bringing healthy foods into schools across the country.

The Obama Administration’s work through the Affordable Care Act and the Let’s Move! campaign is already helping America raise a healthier generation of children and bring down the costs of health care at the individual and the national level. For more on what the Affordable Care Act is doing in the name of preventive health, see healthcare.gov online. For more on childhood obesity, including the causes, risks, remedies, and how you can get involved, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation online.


Interested in an in-person presentation on how health reform is rolling out in Illinois and what it means for individuals? Are you a direct service provider or advocate for vulnerable populations and interested in how the Affordable Care Act will impact the population you serve? Rachel Gielau, health policy expert at the Shriver Center, is giving free in-person presentations to Illinois audiences on how health reform is affecting individual and families in Illinois. Contact Rachel Gielau at 312-368-1154 to set up a presentation for your organization! 

This blog post was coauthored by Rachel Gielau.

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