By Elise Viebeck - 09/18/12 07:51 PM EDT
The number of obese adults is set to increase dramatically in the United States over the next two decades, triggering an avalanche of related and costly health conditions, according to a new study.
Report authors argue the crisis merits federal intervention to promote healthier school lunches and more physical education for children — controversial recommendations amid current political debates over the right role of government.
"Policy changes can help make healthier choices easier for Americans in their daily lives," said Jeff Levi, executive director with Trust for America's Health.
"This report outlines how policies like increasing physical activity time in schools and making fresh fruits and vegetables more affordable can help make healthier choices easier. Small changes can add up to a big difference."
Unless curbed, rising obesity rates are on track to produce 39 majority-obese states by 2030, according to the analysis.
But a health crisis would hit sooner, authors wrote. Following the current trajectory, new cases of weight-related illness — from strokes to arthritis — would increase 10 times by 2020 and double again by 2030.
"Over the next 20 years, nine states also could see their obesity-related healthcare costs climb by more than 20 percent," the report stated, "[while] 16 states and Washington, D.C., could see increases between 15 percent and 20 percent."
Authors encouraged a federal response to "match the severity of the health and financial toll the epidemic" will take on the United States.
Specifically, the report recommended public investment in preventive healthcare, obesity prevention measures and better nutrition and physical activity for students.
"This study shows us two futures for America’s health," said RWJF President Risa Lavizzo-Mourey 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."
By reducing their citizens' average body mass index by 5 percent before 2030, the report found, states stand to save between about $1 billion and $81 billion in potential healthcare costs.
Those figures represent the potential savings for Wyoming and California, respectively.