Promoting Childhood Health Could Save Billions

Researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health say interventions targeting obesity, exposure to tobacco, mental health, and injury prevention in children, before age five, could significantly reduce lifetime costs for health care. Promoting childhood health, beginning in preschool, could save billions in health care spending throughout a lifetime.

The study authors found convincing evidence that health promotion for children, starting early, can amount to huge savings in healthcare spending. Bernard Guyer, MD, lead author of the study and the Zanvyl Kreiger Professor of Children's Health with the Bloomberg School's Department of Population, Family and Reproductive Health estimate a savings of $50,000 per child, per lifetime, through health interventions that control tobacco exposure and focus on injury prevention in kids.

“The currently available research justifies targeted investments in early childhood health promotion as a means to averting future health costs and improving overall health during their life span”, write the authors. Health interventions that specifically target children before age five…“translates to $65—100 billion for the entire birth cohort of children.”

The researchers looked at multiple databases to find the health impact of tobacco exposure, unintentional injury, obesity and mental health in early childhood. They found that health promotion in the first five years of life, to prevent tobacco exposure and injuries in children could result in saving $500 million during the course of a lifetime.

Evidence was found that injuries occurring between infancy and age four add up to $4.7 billion in lifetime medical costs, and $14 billion in lost productivity. Obesity research is lacking, and the authors suggest a targeted approach to obesity prevention, starting in childhood, would also result in decreased health spending over a lifetime.

Sai Ma, PhD, corresponding author of the study and an assistant scientist with the Bloomberg School's Department of Population, Family and Reproductive Health says, "Meeting the underlying health needs of American children will require decision makers and practitioners to understand complex multiple determinants of health and disease, as well as public health approaches that involve family, community and national interventions."

Early prevention and health promotion, targeting obesity, mental health, childhood injuries, and tobacco exposure have been identified by the Hopkins researchers as the four biggest detriments to future health. Policies that target health promotion in children, before age five, could save billions in healthcare spending, as suggested by the study.

John Hopkins