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Childhood Obesity Expected to Cost Maine Over $1 Billion, Study Says

If childhood obesity remains unchecked in Maine, it's expected to cost the state roughly $1.2 billion in medical costs over the next 20 years, according to a new study.

Currently, 7.8 percent of Maine children and adolescents are obese, according to data from schools in the state and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Todd Gabe, a professor of economics at the University of Maine, set out to determine just how costly childhood obesity could become for the state over the next two decades.

Already, the annual medical costs of obesity in Maine are an estimated $452.7 million (for children and adults combined), according to the study. Considering the growing body of research that's linked obesity in childhood with higher chances of obesity in adulthood, childhood obesity is "particularly problematic" because it contributes to medical costs today and in the future, Gabe wrote.

According to the professor's estimates, the medical costs of obesity for the current group of Maine children—for both the obese and non-obese children—will be an estimated $1.2 billion over the next 20 years.

"If anything, these cost numbers are conservative," he told the Bangor Daily News.

Gabe broke the study down into five-year increments (five years into the future, 10 years, etc.) to correspond with the five-year age cohorts used by the U.S. Census Bureau (under five years, five to nine years, etc.).

Based on Gabe's estimates, even five years from now, the number of overweight and obese children in Maine will have skyrocketed, from 24,198 now to 41,895 in five years.

It only gets worse from there. Going the full 20 years into the future, Gabe projects an estimated 79,812 of the current cohort of 310,959 Maine children and adolescents (who will all be adults by that time) will be obese.

In percentage terms, 25.7 percent of those current children and adolescents would be obese—which falls in line with Maine's current adult obesity rate of 27.8 percent, according to figures from the CDC cited in the study.

Gabe did explore a few factors that could reduce the costs of obesity for the state over the next two decades, including reducing the number of overweight and obese children, or decreasing the odds of children (whether healthy, overweight, or obese) becoming obese adults. According to the study, if Maine reduces the probability of non-obese children becoming obese adults by 12 percent, the state could save $100 million in medical costs related to obesity over the next 20 years.

A report released in September by the Trust for America's Health and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation suggested that 13 states could have adult-obesity rates higher than 60 percent by 2030. The report estimated that if obesity continued along its current track, 55.2 percent of Maine adults would be obese by 2030.

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