Parents’ biggest health concern nowadays is the obesity epidemic that affects one-third of American children. Their concerns are shared by policymakers, business leaders and health care professionals, who recognize that childhood obesity is not just a serious health epidemic, but that it also represents a serious problem for the budget.

The “Campaign to End Obesity” has just released a new study that shows that it is economically crucial to take real action on obesity, particularly in children.

Interestingly, the study was performed by two prominent conservative economists, both former Bush administration officials, who concluded that the impact on the budget would be far lower if policies to reverse childhood obesity were acted upon, rather than failing to tackle childhood obesity, which would be considerably more costly.

The authors highlight the fact that several evidence-based obesity interventions and treatment methods can prove cost-effective, as well as offering major long-term savings. They not only reduce obesity, but also prevent or decrease dangerous and costly secondary diseases, including cancer and diabetes.

$147 billion are currently spent every year on obesity-related health care expenses, a figure that does not include the additional billions in costs to businesses, communities and families. If the obesity epidemic is not controlled, the health care toll will continue to shoot up.

Health care costs are already the fastest-growing area of government spending, and according to a recent McKinsey report, the projected spending for the U.S. on obesity could be as high as $320 billion annually by 2018.

In light of these budgetary threats, Congress passed the health care overhaul in 2010 to seriously tackle the childhood obesity epidemic.

Progress is already being made in Wisconsin and countrywide, through implementing new community-directed programs that make healthy living more accessible to children and their families. The law also means that the secretary of Health and Human Services is in a position to ensure are wider availability of certain medical services for the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of obesity, and that these are covered under federal insurance programs.

The law also supported new demonstration projects, which track and monitor healthy children’s weight, and although these measures alone will not solve the obesity crisis, they are, nevertheless, significant new benefits that can and do make a difference in the overall picture.

The reauthorization of this year’s farm bill represents another opportunity for Congress to tackle the obesity crisis. Another important step could be to reshape the nation’s food policy so that farmers have more opportunities to promote local produce, giving consumers easier access to healthy food.

The authors made a compelling argument, which deserves further investigation; they suggest for the Congressional Budget Office to revise its scoring window from 10 to over 20 years, given that a longer time period truly reflects the real burden of obesity on national economy, and also reflects the true savings that can be made.

A better and long-term scoring system and information could be beneficial in finding additional policy solutions for this epidemic, as well as promoting additional strategic investments. These could consist of tax incentives for healthy lifestyles, programs promoting physical activities in schools, and insurance cover for proven anti-obesity treatments, for instance.

Tackling the growing obesity epidemic is a challenge that affects everyone, parents, the community and school leaders. Everyone plays an important role in prioritizing healthy living and giving children easier choices. Workers and their families can benefit from business leaders who commit to make healthy lifestyles more accessible, whilst medical providers can do more to combat obesity in patients.

The federal government also has to make a significant impact on obesity, for instance, by investing in required resources for programs that tend to benefit children’s health and our future economy. Children represent the future and leaders are therefore obliged to collaborate to make these commitments real.

This article used material from a document written by By Rep. Ron Kind and Donna Katen-Bahensky. (Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.) is a member of the Ways and Means Committee and co-chairman of the Congressional Wellness Caucus, the Congressional Fitness Caucus and the Congressional Task Force on Childhood Obesity. Donna Katen-Bahensky is president and CEO of University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics.)

Written by Petra Rattue