The long-term returns of obesity prevention policies

April 2013, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates the costs of proposed federal legislation over a 10-year timeframe. For policies and programs that have a long-term impact, the 10-year timeframe can account for many of the costs, but miss out on the savings.

This report from the Campaign to End Obesity concludes that widening that window to 75 years, which the CBO has done in other instances, could better account for all of the costs and savings attributable to various obesity prevention efforts. Because such programs would prevent obesity and related chronic conditions in the long run, they can help save money by reducing health care costs and increasing wages. The report identifies billions of dollars in potential savings that are attributable to four specific obesity prevention strategies, finding the highest potential for savings among women. The savings highlighted below are specific to women:

Key Findings:

  • Obesity screening by physicians, which is recommended by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force and covered by Medicare and many private health insurers pursuant to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), could yield as much as $44 billion in long-term federal savings.
  • The S-CHIP childhood obesity demonstration project, which combines changes in preventive care at doctor visits with community and school efforts to prevent and reduce childhood obesity in low-income communities, could produce as much as $41 billion in long-term federal savings.
  • Long-term federal savings from bringing the community-based, Diabetes Prevention Program to scale may amount to as much as $18.4 billion. Tinfographiche program, which already has demonstrated effectiveness, helps participants set weight loss goals, increase physical activity, and implement healthy eating habits.
  • Coverage of certain weight-loss drugs under Medicare Part D could yield long term federal savings of as much as $11.4 billion.

The author recommends that CBO use a 75-year, lifetime scoring window to assess obesity prevention policies.

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