School programs cut health care costs

Every child runs around in gym class,  plays on the playground, and takes part in a game of kick ball here or there but a new study shows more can be done to curb childhood obesity. 

By enacting certain fit programs at school researchers have found kids drop the pounds and in turn thousands of dollars in the health care can be saved.

Children’s Hospital Boston and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention  looked at 10 Massachusetts middle schools, five of which adopted the obesity prevention curriculum Planet Health, a program created to keep middle schoolers active and give them tools to stay fit.  Researcher’s project that expanding the program to even just 100 schools could save the health care system $680,000.

Aside from these benefits the study’s authors found other advantages.

“We were really surprised and encouraged to see how protective Planet Health was for eating disorder symptoms in girls,” says S. Bryn Austin, an epidemiologist in Children’s Hospital Boston’s Division of Adolescent Medicine. “When we found the same protective effect – cutting the risk for girls in half — in a different set of middle schools several years later, we knew we were on to something important.”

He went on to say, “Because eating disorders can be so expensive to treat, preventing even one case in the five Planet Health schools translated into reducing medical costs by $34,000,” says Austin. “But if we scale up our calculations to include, say, 100 middle schools in Massachusetts, the medical costs reduced by preventing bulimia increase to over half a million dollars. And if we scale up nationwide, to say 1,000 schools, the potential reduction in the medical cost burden is sizable.”

Austin notes that obesity prevention programs that stigmatize obesity or create a sense of blame can actually contribute to eating disorders. “We need to be smart about choosing obesity prevention strategies that, at the same time, can prevent eating disorders,” she says. “Our study shows that when we do both, we substantially increase the benefits, both in terms of health and reducing medical costs.”

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