Childhood obesity is a widely recognized problem, but how do we stop it? And how do we know if money used for prevention is well spent? Up until now, cost-effectiveness analyses of childhood obesity prevention strategies have been limited, making it difficult for policymakers to know the best approach.
However, The Childhood Obesity Intervention Cost-Effectiveness Study (CHOICES) — a collaboration between the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Columbia University, and research partners at Deakin and Queensland Universities — works to help reverse the US obesity epidemic by identifying the most cost-effective childhood obesity interventions. In a series of papers recently published by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, CHOICES investigator Dr. Steven Gortmaker and his coauthors describe four preventive childhood obesity strategies — all of which were found to be more cost-effective than existing clinical interventions for treating obesity. These papers, summarized here, are the first to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of these four strategies which could be implemented nationally:
- A tax on sugar-sweetened beverages
- Eliminating the tax subsidy of TV advertising marketing unhealthy food to children
- Early care and education policy changes, with a focus on unhealthy beverages, physical activity, and screen time
- Policy changes and teacher training to increase physical activity in existing PE classes
CHOICES researchers decided on this mix of policy and program-based interventions in order to represent a broad range of nationally scalable obesity prevention strategies. This analysis identifies preventive childhood obesity strategies that are more cost-effective than existing clinical interventions, providing policymakers with important tools to focus on strategies that produce best value for money.