If present trends persist, the USA will have 65 million and the UK 11 million more obese people by 2030, bringing the US obese total to 164 million people, approximately half the country’s population, researchers from the University of Oxford, England and Columbia University, New York, reported in The Lancet.

Dr. Y Claire Wang and Professor Klim McPherson, in the second Paper in The Lancet Obesity Series, examined trends in obesity in the USA and the UK, and what the impact is and will likely be on disease prevalence and healthcare spending.

The researchers explain that several acute and chronic illnesses and conditions linked to overweight burden a society in several ways: people’s quality of life are negatively affected, and the economic toll for the overweight individual and society as a whole is considerable – mainly from lost productivity and greater health care costs.

The United States and the United Kingdom are among the fattest countries among OECD nations. Experts say obesity rates have been progressively increasing and appear to be set to continue for many years to come. The United Kingdom has 15 million obese people and the USA 99 million.

Below are some figures highlighted in the paper:

  • Approximately one quarter of men in the USA are obese
  • 46% of all African-American women are obese
  • 30% of Caucasian adult females in the USA are obese
  • Approximately 33% of Hispanic-American women are obese
  • 19% of white men in the UK are obese, compared to 17% of black men
  • 11% of Asian men in the UK are obese
  • One third of UK black women are obese
  • 1 in 5 white women and 1 in 6 Asian women in the UK are obese

The researchers initially used US information from 1988 to 2008 and UK data from 1993 to 2008 to build historic trends.

If these trends were to continue, US obesity rates from 2008 to 2030 would:

  • Rise from 32% to 50% for men
  • Increase from 35% to between 45% and 52% for women
  • This would mean an extra 65 million obese people. The USA would have 164 obese individuals by 2030
  • Treating obesity related diseases would cost $66 billion more annually by 2030 – a 2.6% rise in overall health spending.
  • Over the two decades, spending specifically on obesity-related causes would rise by 13% to 16% annually, with one quarter due to people living longer.
  • There would be 7.8 million more people with diabetes, 6.8 million cases of coronary heart disease and stroke, and 539,000 extra cases of cancer.

UK obesity rates from 2008 to 2030 would:

  • Rise from 26% among men to between 41% and 48%
  • Rise from 26% among females to between 35% and 43%
  • This would mean an extra 11 million obese people. The UK would have 26 million obese people by 2030.
  • Treating obesity related disease would cost $2 billion more annually by 2030 – a 2% rise in overall health spending.
  • Over the two decades spending specifically on obesity-related causes would go up by 25% per year, with two-fifths within that due only to ageing (UK has an older population than the USA).
  • There would be 668,000 more people with diabetes, 461,000 with coronary heart disease, and 130,000 with cancer.

If the UK and US average BMI (Body Mass Index) dropped by just 1%, the following numbers of cases would be avoided by 2030:

  • UK – 179,000 to 202,000 cases of diabetes.
  • UK – 120,000 cases of heart disease and stroke.
  • UK – 32,000 cancer cases.
  • USA – 2.05 to 2.4 million cases of diabetes.
  • USA – 1.4 to 1.7 million cases of heart disease and stroke.
  • USA – 73,000 to 127,000 cancer cases.

The researchers stress that we will not know for a few years whether or not the UK and/or USA rates have flattened out or turned a corner.

Some suggest that obese people die early, a factor which may save money on health care costs. On this point, the authors conclude:

“Without a doubt, health-care expenditure is high for elderly people, but these costs should not be used to justify the cost-savings of dying younger, or to suggest that obesity prevention has no benefit.”

The countries with the highest obesity rates among OECD nations are (in order):

  • USA
  • Mexico
  • New Zealand
  • Australia
  • United Kingdom
  • Canada
  • Ireland

They are all English-speaking countries, with the exception of Mexico. Of the 33 countries in the OECD, English-speaking countries are among the fattest 7, and none of them appear in the rest of the list.

Why do English-speaking countries have such high obesity rates? (Link to article)

Written by Christian Nordqvist