By 2030 an estimated 65 million more adults will be obese in the U.S. and the rise in medical cost could reach up to $66 billion a year.

The obesity epidemic has placed an increasing burden on the health of populations, on healthcare system and on overall economies. A major challenge for researchers is to quantify the effect of these burdens to inform public policies.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) about one-third or 33.8 percent of U.S. adults are obese. Approximately 17 percent or 12.5 million children and adolescents aged 2-19 years are obese.

Researchers at the Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health and Oxford University using simulated forecast model project that the probable health and economic consequences from rising obesity rate would increase an estimated 65 million more obese adults in the U.S. and 11 million more obese adults in the U.K.

Due to obesity millions of additional cases of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and cancer will increase. The findings suggest the medical cost associated with treatment of this preventable disease in the U.S. alone will increase by $48-66 billion per year.

The study "Health and Economic Burden of the Projected Obesity Trends in the USA and the UK," led by researcher Y. Claire Wang, MD, ScD, Mailman School assistant professor of Health Policy and Management, with colleagues from Oxford University, are part of series of articles on obesity published in the journal Lancet.

Researchers constructed historic trends in BMI and analyzed data from tow nationally representative surveys the U.S national Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) and Healthy Survey from England (HSE).

The data projected the following impacts by 2030:

  • Prevalence of Obesity amongst men would rise from 32 percent in 2008 to approximately 50 percent and from 35 percent in women to 45-55 percent.
  • 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 rate of spending on obesity related disease will rise by 14-16%
  • Total medical cost associated with treatment of these preventable diseases is estimated to increase by 48-66 billion.

"Many chronic and acute health disorders associated with excess bodyweight burden society—not only by negatively affecting the health-related quality of life but also by incurring significant costs," said Dr. Wang. These stem not only from increased healthcare expenditures but also from worker absenteeism, disability pensions, less productivity at work due to poor health, and earlier retirement."

The new study shows that even a small drop in average body mass index (BMI) would have a major health and economic impacts. They therefore recommend action to promote healthier body weights.