Study: Keep obesity rates level, save about $550 billion

May 8, 2012, 10:48 a.m.

If U.S. obesity rates remain at 2010 levels, that could total nearly $550 billion in savings over the next two decades. (Credit: David D./Flickr Creative Commons)

By some estimates, more than a third of the American population is obese – and certain linear time trend projections say that proportion could be up to more than half by 2030.

But a new study appearing in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine has found that if the U.S. can keep the prevalence of obesity to 2010 levels, the cost of savings over the next 20 years could add up to nearly $550 billion.

That's got people's attention.

Cutting obesity rates by just 20 percent over the next two decades would slash $85 billion off health care costs, reports MSNBC.

As of 2010, around 36 percent of U.S. adults were obese – that's about 30 pounds overweight – and six percent were severely obese – 100 pounds or more overweight. The study predicts that by 2030, 42 percent of adults will be obese and 11 percent will be severely obese.

The report takes into account recent evidence that obesity among some groups is leveling off, but despite that measure of moderation, the trend is still one of increase.

Should the study's predictions hold true, that would put the country's obese population at well over 100 million people.

Eric Finkelstein, the study's lead researcher, told USA Today that his team's estimates assume that the country is already doing its worst in terms of an environment that promotes obesity. "We don't expect the environment to get much worse than it is now, or at least we hope it doesn't," he said.

Researchers found that an obese person costs about $1,400 more in medical expenses a year than someone who's at a healthy weight – and that estimate isn't the highest one out there.

Obesity exacerbates negative health outcomes and puts people at increased risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, different cancers and other chronic illnesses.

But the study's authors concluded by saying that even the smallest anti-obesity efforts count.

"[S]uccessful interventions that generate even small improvements in obesity prevalence ... could result in substantial savings," they wrote.

Rebecca Puhl, the director of research at Yale's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, told USA Today what some of those interventions might look like.

"If we want to reduce obesity, we have to change the conditions that created it in the first place," she said, "with less advertising of unhealthy foods to children, easier access to healthy foods for everyone, improved physical education requirements in all schools, environments that make it easier for people to be active, and taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages."

South Los Angeles' obesity rates are way above other area averages in the county.

Photo by David D. via Flickr Creative Commons.

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