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Efforts to reign in health care costs in the United States would be significantly undermined if the population of obese Americans rises by more than one-third in the next 20 years, as predicted in a study by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine released this month.
According to the Journal's study, “Obesity and Severe Obesity Forecasts Through 2030,” approximately 12.7% of Americans were considered by medical standards to be obese (a body mass index measurement of 30 or higher) in 1991, and less than 1% were considered severely obese (a BMI of 40 or higher). Just under two decades later, in 2008, the percentage of obese Americans had more than doubled to 28.6%, while the percentage of severely obese Americans increased three-fold, to 4.1%.
Based on predicted demographic shifts and socioeconomic models, the study predicts the prevalence of obesity among Americans to swell to 42.2% by 2030, a 33% increase over 2008. Proportionally, severe obesity is expected to grow at an even faster rate, reaching 11.1% in 20 years' time, the study said.
“If these forecasts prove accurate, this will further hinder efforts for health care cost containment,” researchers said in the report.
While the study's results are alarming, researchers noted that their predictions became more conservative as their calculations expanded to include a greater number of individual and state-to-state variables.
When those variables are excluded and the trends are forecasted on a strictly linear basis, the study predicts that more than half of the nation's adult residents will qualify as obese by 2030.
“Partly as a result of the obesity epidemic, other variables, such as increased access to recreational facilities, improvements in urban design, anti-obesity social marketing programs, worksite health promotion programs, new drugs and technologies, and others are changing in ways that could slow obesity growth,” researchers said. “Successful interventions that generate even small improvements in obesity prevalence could result in substantial savings.”
Successful interventions that produce even modest improvements in obesity rates could result in substantial reductions in health care spending, the report said. Just a 1% decrease from the predicted trend would generate 2.6 million fewer obese adults in 2020, and 2.9 million fewer obese adults in 2030, the report said.
“That reduction in the trend would reduce obesity-attributable annual medical expenditures by $4 billion in 2020, and by $4.7 billion in 2030,” researchers said. “Over the next 2 decades, this 1 percentage point reduction from trend would reduce obesity-attributable medical expenditures by (a total of) $84.9 billion.”
The odds of an occupational injury increase when workers are overweight or obese, according to a study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology. The study authors looked at a large number of hourly employees for a U.S. manufacturing company and found, among other things, that about 85% of injured workers fit the category. Read the study.