Overweight kids are significantly more likely to take prescription medications than their normal-weight peers, increasing the already expensive costs for treating childhood obesity, according to a new study by the University of Alberta.

Over 2,000 Canadian children’s medication use were analyzed from the 2007 through 2009 Canadian Health Measures Survey.

The team of experts, from the School of Public Health, discovered that overweight and obese kids (ages 12 to 19) were 59% more likely to take prescription drugs than kids of average weight.

Christina Fung, co-author, explained that prescription drug expenditures have increased twofold over the last decade, accounting for 17% of health-care costs in Canada, the 2nd highest after hospital fees.

Governments and health-care providers need to see the total picture in order to direct spending money more appropriately.

Fung said:

“Overweight and obese patients are more expensive to the health-care system in terms of using medication and prescription drugs. In Canada, we have a public health-care system, and this is an issue of accountability and where health-care dollars are spent, and when.”

The results, published in Archives of Disease in Childhood also indicated that overweight kids had a two times higher chance of receiving treatment for respiratory ailments, including asthma and allergies.

This supports previous research from 2011 which showed that overweight children are twice as likely to have asthma, compared to healthy-weight kids.

Paul Veugelers, co-author and Canada Research Chair in Population Health, explained that governments need to focus more on preventing obesity. Over the past 25 years, he said, rates have tripled in Canada, and about 34% of children aged 2 to 17 are now struggling with being overweight or obese.

Veugelers, a professor and director of the Population Health Intervention Research Unit that works with the Alberta Project Promoting active Living and healthy Eating (APPLE Schools), revealed:

“By investing in prevention in kids- promotion of healthy eating and active living- there’s an immediate payback in terms of health-care costs.

Children who are not overweight are less likely to develop diabetes, or 30 to 40 years later get a heart attack or end up with cancer. Forty years from now you see a real return in terms of health-care costs.”

This was shown in a prior study in Archives of Disease in Childhood indicating that 2 out of 3 severely obese children have at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

Veugelers explained that since kids aged 6 to 11 showed no significant difference in medication use, it could imply that more drugs are not needed until the children have spent a very long time on a poor diet and being physically inactive.

Written by Sarah Glynn