Twenty nine percent of Connecticut children ages 5 to 17 are overweight or obese, according to the Department of Public Health. That number jumps to 47.8% for children living in households with annual incomes between $25,000 to 50,000. Many, maybe most, of these children qualify for Medicaid. Only 13.1% of Connecticut high school students eat three or more servings of vegetables in a day and 42% play video games or use a computer for three hours or more on school days. Obesity, especially childhood obesity, is linked with dozens of serious and costly health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, arthritis, and asthma. While DPH’s latest childhood obesity report outlines many public health interventions, it doesn’t mention Medicaid or HUSKY. Nationally in 2016, Medicaid per person costs were $1,021 more for obese adults. Another RWJ report outlines current opportunities for state Medicaid programs to support community-based, person-centered obesity prevention programs.
A very cool new tool from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation helps state Medicaid programs predict the impact from proven childhood obesity interventions that are working in other states. Based on a short list of input data needed (which Connecticut should have), the tool estimates savings, the breakeven point and cumulative savings after 17 years, expected numbers of participants, and impact on associated conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, hyperlipidemia and asthma in children and adults. The tool is spreadsheet-based, user-friendly and details the methodology. It charts over time that predicted impact on obesity levels, numbers of participants, healthcare costs and associated diseases, pre-and post-intervention.
The tool describes a variety of community-based, person-centered prevention interventions supported by Medicaid and proven successful in other states. The site and links give lots of detail on the programs and implementation allowing policymakers to choose what fits for families and communities our state. Interventions include hospital weight management programs focused on social needs and skill building, home visiting, and integrating Medicaid and Public Health to coordinate services.
This new tool will make it easier, and makes a strong case, for Connecticut Medicaid, public health and budget officials to do more about childhood obesity.