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Nearly 50% of U.S. adults will be obese by 2030

August 29, 2011

About half of all U.S. adults will be obese by 2030 if current trends continue, according to a series of studies in the Lancet.

The studies found that obesity rates worldwide have doubled in the last 30 years, even as blood pressure and cholesterol levels have decreased. About 5% of men and 8% of women worldwide were obese in 1980, compared with about 10% of men and 14% of women in 2008.

In the U.S., about 32% of men and 35% of women are obese. The studies found that obesity is quickly replacing tobacco use as the most significant preventable cause of chronic non-communicable diseases. By 2030, the U.S. will experience an increase of more than 7.8 million cases of diabetes, 6.8 million cases of heart disease and stroke, and 539,000 cases of cancer because of obesity. Researchers also expect that obesity will cost the U.S. an extra 2.6% in health care expenses, or about $66 billion annually.

"Increased supply of cheap, tasty, energy-dense food, improved food distribution and marketing, and the strong economic forces driving consumption and growth are the key drivers of the obesity epidemic," according to Boyd Swinburn and Gary Sacks of the World Health Organization's Collaborating Center for Obesity Prevention in Australia. Swinburn and Sacks led one of the studies.

The researchers argue that the global obesity problem will continue to progress unless governments, international agencies and other institutions intervene. One report found that changes in food production and marketing over the last century have created an obesogenic environment, in which efforts to maintain a healthy weight are largely impossible. They suggest changing the way foods are marketed, making healthful foods less costly and less-healthful foods more costly through increased taxes (Lyn, Reuters, 8/26; AP/New York Times, 8/25; Huget,Washington Post, 8/25).

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