New Report Shows Importance of Calculating Full Cost Savings of Obesity Prevention

Highlighting obesity-related medical expenses, economists recommend 25-year window for scoring legislative proposals.

Cost estimates for legislative proposals to address obesity use a time period that is too short to capture the potential economic value of preventing related diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease, according to a report by the Campaign to End Obesity. The report concludes that this limits policy-makers’ ability to consider effective policies to address these costly health conditions.

Numerous studies have shown that strategic investments in proven, community-based prevention programs can save lives and money. A 2011 study showed that a 10 percent increase in local public health spending leads to significant decreases in infant mortality and deaths from cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer. Another study found that a 5 percent cut to the rate of chronic disease growth would save Medicare and Medicaid $5.5 billion annually by 2030.

But one of the underlying problems in justifying spending to prevent obesity is that cost estimates of legislative proposals to do so use a time period too short to capture the potential economic value of preventing diseases linked to obesity. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO), which judges the costs and benefits of federal legislation, currently conducts its projections over a 10-year period.

This approach often does not fully encompass the effectiveness of preventing a condition like obesity, which is associated with many longer-term health complications. The authors of the report suggest using a 25-year scoring window instead, noting that this would capture more of the cost benefits of obesity-prevention measures.

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