Stories about: health economics

Q+A: The economic case for obesity treatment

medical costsCan putting a price tag on childhood obesity propel treatment and prevention efforts into comprehensive action? Perhaps, says David Ludwig, MD, PhD, of Boston Children’s Hospital.

Although the U.S. Task Force on Childhood Obesity set a goal of dropping obesity prevalence among youth to 5 percent by 2030, efforts have failed to make a significant dent. Recent data indicate only slight dips in obesity prevalence among 6- to 19-year-olds in some states. And other data show that the prevalence of extreme obesity in children continues to rise.

With nearly 20 percent of U.S. children tipping the scales as obese, policymakers need not only to act but also to justify the investment in childhood obesity treatment and prevention programs.

Duke University researchers offered a helping hand in a review article in the April 7 online Pediatrics, estimating the incremental lifetime direct medical cost of childhood obesity. Their economic model showed a $19,000 incremental lifetime medical cost of an obese child relative to a normal-weight youth.

Ludwig, who directs the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center Boston Children’s Hospital, provides insights into the next steps.

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Autism at the cusp: Better metrics and objective measures needed

Ruler-metric-shutterstock_70841518There’s been an explosion of scientific research in autism—from mouse models of genetic syndromes involving autism to culturing neurons from stem cells derived from patients’ skin to tracking EEG patterns in infants whose brothers or sisters have autism.

So I expected yesterday’s panel on Piecing Together the Autism Puzzle, part of Boston Children’s National Pediatric Innovation Summit, to be about the science. I changed my seat just before it started, so I could better view the slides.

Instead, the conversation turned to the insurance, public health and social justice aspects of autism. Take, for example, the rising incidence of autism, which the CDC places at 1 in 88 (and 1 in 54 in boys). Panelist Ami Klin, PhD, director of the Marcus Autism Center at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, noted that between the CDC’s 2002 and 2008 reports on autism, there was close to a 101 percent increase in autism prevalence in Hispanics and a 96 percent increase in blacks.

Thousands of children didn’t suddenly develop autism in a six-year span; rather, more were diagnosed with autism as awareness of the disease increased. Even so, diagnoses often don’t occur until a child is 3 to 5 year old, and only 2.5 percent of diagnostic assessments of autism are using the field’s best standardized tools. While multiple diagnostic tests are being researched—like EEGs or blood tests looking at gene expression—they’re still experimental.

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