Childhood obesity rates have leveled off in recent years, but remain at epidemic proportions for at-risk populations, particularly low-income children, one-third of whom are overweight or obese before their fifth birthday. Children of all ages who are served by Medicaid or CHIP are nearly six-times more likely to be treated for a diagnosis of obesity than their privately insured counterparts. Obesity also disproportionately affects children from racial/ethnic minority populations, who compose 65 percent of the nation’s child Medicaid beneficiaries.

Given its role as a dominant purchaser of children’s health care, Medicaid can be an effective laboratory to test new interventions aimed at preventing and treating childhood obesity. While some state Medicaid programs have prioritized this issue, to a large extent, Medicaid agencies and public health organizations have not leveraged their purchasing power to encourage obesity risk assessment, prevention, or treatment.

To meet this need, the Center for Health Care Strategies (CHCS), launched Innovations in Childhood Obesity (ICO), with support from Kaiser Permanente Community Benefit. The ICO initiative fostered collaboration between Medicaid and public health organizations in five states — Arizona, Maryland, Oklahoma, Oregon, and Texas — with efforts focused on the development, testing, and dissemination of innovative approaches to reducing obesity prevalence among low-income children. Lessons from the initiative were shared broadly to inform other states and communities working to address childhood obesity.