September 24, 2010

More Americans Becoming Obese: Report

The United States is at the forefront of the world's richest countries that are getting fatter and fatter, according to an organization of leading economies on Thursday.

The first ever forecast on obesity says three out of four Americans will be overweight or obese by 2020, and disease rates and health care spending will expand, unless a strategy to combat the growing epidemic can be agreed upon by individuals, governments and the health care industry, the study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) said.

The organization, based out of Paris, is better known for forecasting deficit and employment levels than for measuring obesity. But the economic cost of excess weight -- in health care and wasted resources -- is a growing concern for many countries around the world.

OECD senior health economist Franco Sassi, who wrote the report, blamed obesity on low-cost, unhealthy foods.

"Food is much cheaper than in the past, in particular food that is not particularly healthy, and people are changing their lifestyles, they have less time to prepare meals and are eating out more in restaurants," Sassi, a former London School of Economics lecturer who worked on the report for three years, told the Associated Press (AP).

He also said that people are being much less physically active than in the past which contributes to the growing obesity epidemic. The overweight rates in Americans have jumped to nearly 70 percent this year from well under 50 percent in 1980, according to the OECD.

In another 10 years, seventy-five percent of Americans will be overweight, making it the fattest country in the OECD world, the OECD report said.

The same factors driving the obesity epidemic in the US are also at work in other rich and developing countries, said Sassi. "There is a frightening increase in the epidemic," Sassi said, "We've not reached the plateau yet."

Obese people have a greatly reduced lifespan -- 8 to 10 years -- compared to healthy weight individuals, the OECD said.

Currently, in the US, the cost in dollars of obesity, including higher healthcare spending and lost production, is already equivalent to 1 percent of the country's total gross domestic product, the report said.

These costs could increase two- or threefold in the coming years. The OECD cited another study that forecast obesity and overweight-related healthcare costs would rise 70 percent by 2015.

The OECD advises governments on economic growth, social development and financial stability.


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