If the United States doesn't start getting its obesity problem in check, 13 states could have adult-obesity rates higher than 60 percent by 2030, according to a report released Tuesday by the Trust for America's Health (TFAH) and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF).
The "F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America's Future 2012" report estimates that every state could have an adult-obesity rate of 44 percent or higher within the next 20 years, assuming obesity rates continue increasing along their current trajectory.
That would only spell trouble for states' health-care costs, as nine states could potentially see a 20 percent jump in obesity-related costs, according to the report. Overall, medical costs for treatment of preventable obesity-related diseases are estimated to increase from $48 billion per year in 2012 to $66 billion in 2030.
The loss in economic productivity due to obesity-related problems could approach $390 billion to $580 billion per year by 2030, the report estimates.
What's the key to preventing this vision of the future from becoming a reality for the United States? Turning around the childhood-obesity epidemic, according to TFAH and RWJF.
"Reversing the childhood-obesity crisis is at the core of the future health and wealth of the country," the report says. "The evidence shows that the goal is achievable, but only if there is a sufficient investment in effective programs and policies."
The report references a few recent examples of how childhood obesity can be turned around on a citywide basis, including a study released earlier this month that found childhood obesity in Philadelphia to have declined 4.5 percent between the 2006-07 and 2009-10 school years. It also references a study released in January that found the childhood-obesity rate in New York City K-8 public school students to have decreased 5.5 percent since the 2006-07 school year.
"These pockets of progress around the country are showing the positive impact that many policies and programs are havingbut they need to be taken to scale," the report says.
To achieve the goal of reducing the United States' future obesity rates, TFAH and RWJF recommend the full implementation of the 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, calling on the U.S. Department of Agriculture to issue a new draft rule for competitive foods sold at schools. The two organizations also push for the finalization of guidelines from the Interagency Working Group on Food Marketed to Children, a congressionally-directed group with members from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration, the USDA, and the Federal Trade Commission.
Assuming Congress does eventually decide to move on reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, TFAH and RWJF suggest that physical education and physical activity should be a priority for Congress when working on the renewed legislation.
What would the United States look like if the country succeeded in its mission to reign in obesity? If states can reduce average adult BMIs by 5 percent, no state would have an obesity rate above 60 percent in 2030, according to the report. The District of Columbia would have an adult-obesity rate below 30 percent, Alaska and Colorado would be below 40 percent, and only 24 states would have more than half their adults considered obese.
If those adult BMI rates were reduced by 5 percent, states could save billions on cumulative health-care costs over the next 20 years, the report suggests. California would the lead the way with more than $80 billion in potential savings, according to the report's estimates, with Texas second ($54 billion) and New York third ($40 billion).
"This study shows us two futures for America's health," said Dr. Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, president and chief executive officer of the RWJF, in a statement. "At every level of government, we must pursue policies that preserve health, prevent disease, and reduce health-care costs. Nothing less is acceptable."
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