Half of U.S. adults will be obese by 2030, report says

August 25, 2011

Based on trends, half of the adults in the United States will be obese by 2030 unless the government makes changing the food environment a policy priority, according to a report released Thursday on the international obesity crisis in the British medical journal the Lancet.

Those changes include making healthful foods cheaper and less-healthful foods more expensive largely through tax strategies, the report said. Changes in the way foods are marketed would also be called for, among many other measures.

A team of international public health experts argued that the global obesity crisis will continue to grow worse and add substantial burdens to health-care systems and economies unless governments, international agencies and other major institutions take action to monitor, prevent and control the problem.

Changes over the past century in the way food is made and marketed have contributed to the creation of an “obesogenic” environment in which personal willpower and efforts to maintain a healthful weight are largely impossible, the report noted.

It also laid out a new way of calculating how many calories to cut to lose weight, giving what it said is a more accurate means of estimating projected weight loss over time.

The common weight-loss wisdom is that reducing calorie intake by about 500 calories a day “will result in slow and steady weight loss of about 0.5 kg (about a pound) per week.” That rule doesn’t take into account the way the body adapts to the change. In particular, as anyone who has actually lost weight can attest, the less you weigh, the fewer calories you can consume if you wish to lose more weight or maintain the loss.

The report said that weight loss should be viewed over a longer period of time and proposed a new “approximate rule of thumb” for an average overweight adult. It said that “every change of energy intake of [about 24 calories] per day will lead to an eventual bodyweight change of about 1 kg (just over two pounds) . . . with half of the weight change being achieved in about 1 year and 95 percent of the weight change in about 3 years.”

Though the report acknowledged that it’s ultimately up to individuals to decide what to eat and how to live their lives, it maintained that governments have largely abdicated the responsibility for addressing obesity to individuals, the private sector, and nongovernmental organizations. Yet the obesity epidemic will not be reversed without government leadership, regulation, and investment in programs, monitoring, and research, it said.

The report, issued in a four-part series published in the Lancet, was released in advance of the first high-level meeting of the United Nations General Assembly focused on noncommunicable disease prevention and control, which will take place in New York next month.

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