WASHINGTON — The obesity epidemic may be slowing, but don't take in those pants yet.
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Today, just over a third of U.S. adults are obese. By 2030, 42 percent will be, says a forecast released Monday.
That's not nearly as many as experts had predicted before the once-rapid rises in obesity rates began leveling off. But the new forecast suggests even small continuing increases will add up.
"We still have a very serious problem," said obesity specialist Dr. William Dietz of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Worse, the already obese are getting fatter. Severe obesity will double by 2030, when 11 percent of adults will be nearly 100 pounds overweight, or more, concluded the research led by Duke University.
That could be an ominous consequence of childhood obesity. Half of severely obese adults were obese as children, and they put on more pounds as they grew up, said CDC's Dietz.
While being overweight increases anyone's risk of diabetes, heart disease and a host of other ailments, the severely obese are most at risk — and the most expensive to treat. Already, conservative estimates suggest obesity-related problems account for at least 9 percent of the nation's yearly health spending, or $150 billion a year.
Data presented Monday at a major CDC meeting paint something of a mixed picture of the obesity battle. There's some progress: Clearly, the skyrocketing rises in obesity rates of the 1980s and '90s have ended. But Americans aren't getting thinner.
Over the past decade, obesity rates stayed about the same in women, while men experienced a small rise, said CDC's Cynthia Ogden. That increase occurred mostly in higher-income men, for reasons researchers couldn't explain.
About 17 percent of the nation's children and teens were obese in 2009 and 2010, the latest available data. That's about the same as at the beginning of the decade, although a closer look by Ogden shows continued small increases in boys, especially African-American boys.
Does that mean obesity has plateaued? Well, some larger CDC databases show continued upticks, said Duke University health economist Eric Finkelstein, who led the new CDC-funded forecast. His study used that information along with other factors that influence obesity rates — including food prices, prevalence of fast-food restaurants, unemployment — to come up with what he called "very reasonable estimates" for the next two decades.
Part of the reason for the continuing rise is that the population is growing and aging. People ages 45 to 64 are most likely to be obese, Finkelstein said.
Today, more than 78 million U.S. adults are obese, defined as having a body-mass index of 30 or more. BMI is a measure of weight for height. Someone who's 5-feet-5 would be termed obese at 180 pounds, and severely obese with a BMI of 40 — 240 pounds.
The new forecast suggests 32 million more people could be obese in 2030 — adding $550 billion in health spending over that time span, Finkelstein said.
"If nothing is done, this is going to really hinder efforts to control health care costs," added study co-author Justin Trogdon of RTI International.
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