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U.S. Obesity Rate Expected to Rise to 42% by 2030

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Public health researchers at Duke University, RTI International in North Carolina, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention forecast that by 2030, the percentage of Americans considered obese is expected to rise by a third, with adverse health and financial implications. The team’s findings appear today online in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

The researchers, led by RTI’s Justin Trogdon, used data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System for 1990 through 2008, and state-level data, with obesity defined as a body mass index (BMI) of 30 and higher, and severe obesity as BMI of 40 or higher. Severely obese people are most likely to encounter health conditions caused by excess weight, such as diabetes, resulting in financial costs measured in higher medical expenditures and absenteeism rates.

Most earlier projections used linear models, assuming a steady increase in obesity rates. More recent data suggest that the rate of obesity is leveling off, which led the team to use nonlinear regression models that can better account for these more recent trends. Even with obesity rates leveling off, the team still forecasts the percentage of obese Americans to rise from 31 percent in 2010 to 42 percent in 2030. The rate of severely obese Americans is expected to more than double, from just under 5 percent in 2010 to 11 percent in 2030.

“Should these forecasts prove accurate,” says Trogdon, “the adverse health and cost consequences of obesity are likely to continue to escalate without a significant intervention.” The paper notes that one of those consequences is hampered efforts to control health care costs.

Even small improvements in obesity prevalence could result in substantial savings, say the researchers. “Keeping obesity rates level,” says Duke’s Eric Finkelstein, the paper’s first author, “could yield a savings of nearly $550 billion in medical expenditures over the next two decades.”

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