Our Future Looks Fat: Study Predicts Nearly Half the U.S. Population Will be Obese by 2030

Photo: Tobyotter

The results of a new study by public health researchers at Columbia University and Oxford University forecasts that by 2030, there will be an additional 65 million obese adults living in the U. S., and 11 million more in the U.K. That would bring the U.S. obese population up from 99 million to 164 million, roughly half the population.

The findings suggest that as a result, medical costs associated with the treatment of preventable diseases (diabetes, heart disease, stroke, cancer) will increase somewhere between $48 billion and $66 billion per year, in the U.S. alone

The study, published in the Aug. 27 issue of The Lancet, was led by Y. Claire Wang of Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health. From Slash Food comes this map of obesity rates by state. Currently, roughly one-third of Americans are obese. Any guesses as to what this map will look like in 2030?

Ans here are some of the study’s depressing highlights:

In the U.S.:

  • Obesity prevalence among men would rise from 32% in 2008 to approximately 50% and from 35% to between 45% and 52% among women
  • 7.8 million extra cases of diabetes
  • 6.8 million more cases of coronary heart disease and stroke
  • 539,000 additional cases of cancer
  • Annual spending on obesity-related diseases would rise by 13-16%, leading to 2.6% increase in national health spending

In the U.K.:

  • Prevalence of obesity among men would increase from 26% to between 41 — 48%, and among women from 26% to 35-43%.
  • 668,000 more cases of diabetes
  • 461,000 more cases of heart disease and stroke
  • 139,000 additional cases of cancer
  • In the U.K., annual spending on obesity-related health would increase even more rapidly than in the U.S. due to its older population, rising 25%.

Now, maybe I’m being naive, but I refuse to believe that within 20 years, half the U.S. population will be obese. Here’s to hoping this is one prediction that doesn’t come true.

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  1. Mike B says:

    If you cut off the medical spending for these conditions it will not only help the budgetary problems, but also reduce the proportion of the population who are obese at the same time. I call that a win win.

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  2. Brian says:

    50% seems way too much. I would like to know how they got these numbers. Do they just assume that obesity is going to continue to rise for the next 20 years at current rates?

    It would seem likely at some point that the rates will plateau at a constant level. There are always going to be people who exercise, eat healthy and make an effort to lose weight so the rates can’t go up forever.

    They should analyze the factors that make people susceptible to obesity and those that lead to healthier weights to come up with these predictions. Why does Colorado have a lower rate the Mississippi and what trends can you deduce from the data

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    • Mike B says:

      I think the situation resembles something like this XKCD.

      http://xkcd.com/605/

      Just because the trends are increasing now doesn’t mean that trend wont’ change in the future.

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  3. Dennis Murray says:

    What method is being used to signify obesity? The questionable measurement of BMI or a truer measure like body fat percentage by a reliable testing method?

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    • caleb b says:

      They use BMI, which was invented in the mid-1800′s and doesn’t apply to normal human beings now that half of us aren’t malnutritioned.

      Are people fatter these days, probably yes, but I have no clue based on BMI.

      BMI only exists now as an excuse for insurance companies to raise your rates.

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      • Some Random Economist says:

        No, BMI is still used because collecting more reliable measures is more expensive.

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    • Gilles says:

      Actually, BMI is quite an accurate predictor of body fat percentage amongst the average population, as opposed to, atheltes, bodybuilders, etc.

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    • Andrew S. says:

      My doctor recently told me I was obese based on BMI and while I definitely want to lose a few pounds, no one I know would agree with this ‘text book’ or ‘medical’ diagnosis. I eat healthy food, exercise regularly and am no couch potato. So, based on something like BMI, I can agree with the study results / trends but based on reality, not all obesity is created equally.

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      • joemama says:

        time to face it, most obese americans probably justify themselves the same way you do. just because all your friends/neighbors are as big as you doesn’t make you less big. the whole point of the article is that the population as a whole is getting bigger.

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      • AL says:

        In addition, presenting factors such as your diet, daily activities and the fact that you don’t sit on the couch all day, says nothing about your true physical condition.

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      • pshrnk says:

        As we have gotten fatter people have lost track of what a healthy weight body looks like.

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  4. lynn says:

    agree with Mike on this one. Your life choices have a major impact on healthcare costs for the wider (no pun intended) system. I have no problem not covering these expenses. Genetics and other preconditions aside, obesity is a result of personal decisions.

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    • Mike B says:

      A lot contributes to obesity that goes beyond poor willpower. In fact recent studies have shown that willpower actually decreases with blood sugar levels so people can find themselves in a catch-22 where the only way to resist eating is to eat more. Don’t forget that the only food low income people can afford tends to be the least nutritious and most unhealthy and since smoking was vilified there are few other inexpensive ways to stimulate endorphin production (and none I can think of that actually suppress appetite).

      Still, cutting off the obese from subsidized medical care that enables their obesity is not an issue of fairness it is an issue of absolute necessity. There simply won’t be enough resources available to keep them from not dying. Something needs to be done to solve the problem and scolding people to eat less isn’t working. Mandatory procedures like gastric bypass or new types of pharmaceutical could provide efficient methods of controlling weight for obese persons covered by public and private insurance, but those unwilling to shed the pounds could no longer be tolerated.

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      • Tim says:

        “Don’t forget that the only food low income people can afford tends to be the least nutritious and most unhealthy”

        I always hear this, but it never holds water for me. Most of the time I find it cheaper to eat relatively healthy compared to unhealthy. Unhealthy food just tends to be more convenient. A loaf of wheat bread and deli-meat turkey breast with a bunch of bananas is a FAR cheaper for a week than fast food or a microwavable meal with processed snacks every day.

        “and since smoking was vilified there are few other inexpensive ways to stimulate endorphin production (and none I can think of that actually suppress appetite)”

        Exercise is free. FREE. And provides huge endorphin production. Also, I often don’t feel very hungry in the short run after working out, and am more apt to crave healthy foods when working out consistently.

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      • Aaron L says:

        Mike,

        You bring up a good point and I am reminded of a previously posted article on here. It was referring to the percentage increase of overweight/obese individuals when a Wal-Mart is opened in a town. These stores offer a convenience factor that has not always been available. I’m not talking about doing all your shopping in one location, I’m talking about the frozen food aisle. Sure, the food may be getting better for you (less fat, lean/healthier options) but the fact remains that it is just too easy to prepare. It is much easier to turn on the over and slide something out of a box that it might be to go through the work of preparing the same meal from scratch. This added work might discourage some people, meaning they simply choose not to eat more, or just have a light snack until it’s meal time. Normal grocery stores have frozen food aisles too, so it’s not just Wal-Mart that is the cause. It’s still, as Lynn said, a matter of personal decisions.

        ~A

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  5. badu says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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    • Mike B says:

      Since when is anyone entitled to have their medical care fully covered by society? If you want to be fat and pay for your own dialysis go right ahead, but your fellow taxpayers or fellow insurance premium payers should not have to pay for your life choices. Maybe in the past it could be overlooked, but if half of the population is obese then both our fiscal situation and our healthcare industry will become completely untenable.

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      • badu says:

        I don’t see the logic of your question. The healthcare systems we know, both tax payer funded or insurance are monopolies pressing lay people to the role of passive obedience. Receiving treatment rather than that of a partnership of equals where the individual takes the lead and the professionals are seen consultants rather than the boss.

        We are not trained nor empowered with the knowledge and attitudes to manage our bodies intelligently or restore balance from within, everything is steered towards commercial intervention e.g. a pill for every ill, rather than seeking to invoke our own agency.

        That systemically induced dependency is what you choose to label ‘entitlement’ and I find those closest too that are people like yourself who have not been subject to the hostility of the medical and scientific establishments.

        That sensibility is alien to people like myself who’ve had a wake up call as to exactly how vulnerable we are if cut adrift without having the personal and societal infrastructure that would make that anything less than ethically unsound.

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  6. Joshua Northey says:

    A properly functioning health insurance market would help alleviate these problems as you wouldn’t have the healthy massively subsidizing the unhealthy.

    Insurance is for pooling risk, not redistributing resources. Every year our office pays out $90,000 in health insurance premiums and takes in around $20,000 in benefits. Of course we are a bunch of fit active employed middle-aged people. Why we should be forced to pool risk with fat people, the aged and smokers is beyond me.

    Another thing that would really help is taking some steps to reduce driving. I gave up driving for trips under 10 miles a few years ago (I bicycle instead) and it has done amazing things for my health.

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  7. Roger S says:

    We make it too easy to eat too much and exercise too little. As a result, people eat too much, exercise too little and get fat. Time to make it hard. Really hard. Since taking away someone’s donut and sending tigers after them might be too heavyhanded, we should compromise and just shame them.

    Never mind the stigma against shaming! I would rather shame than have to claw my eyes out again!

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  8. Quinton says:

    Can we get a little more elaboration on the model they used? The paper is gated. If there is an ungated version, I’d love to see it

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