(CBS News) By 2030, roughly 42 percent of Americans will be obese, researchers announced today to kick off the "Weight of the Nation" obesity conference in Washington, D.C. That staggering rise will contribute to a rise in major health care costs, so much so that the researchers behind the study say keeping obesity rates level over the next 20 years could save nearly $550 billion.
Currently about a third of U.S. adults are obese. The Weight of the Nation meeting is part of a nationwide awareness campaign that involves experts from numerous organizations discussing strategies for the prevention and control of obesity. Partners in the campaign include the CDC, National Institutes of Health, and Institute of Medicine, and HBO - which will air a four-part documentary series by the same title starting May 14.
A study earlier this year in January found the obesity epidemic was reaching a plateau, with numbers remaining the same as they were in 2003. But the researchers behind the new study created new projections, and one said on a conference call that obesity prevalence is "increasing at a decreasing rate," and those increases will add up over time.
For the new study, Duke University researchers used a new statistical model of projecting obesity rates from examining different sets of CDC data on hundreds of thousands of Americans. They predict that by 2030, 11 percent of people will be severely obese, as defined by a Body Mass Index (BMI) over 40 or being roughly 100 pounds or more overweight. That 11 percent rate would double today's rate. The findings suggest the U.S. health care system will be saddled with 32 million additional obese people within two decades.
Only a 1 percent decrease in this predicted trend would mean 2.9 million fewer obese adults in 2030, saving $4.7 billion yearly health care costs, WebMD reported.
"Should these forecasts prove accurate, the adverse health and cost consequences of obesity are likely to continue to escalate without a significant intervention," senior author Dr. Justin Trogdon, a health economist at nonprofit research institute RTI International, said in a written statement.
In addition to being presented at the conference, the findings are published in the May 7 issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
The obesity epidemic has led to a rise in obesity-related chronic diseases, such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and several types of cancer. A study earlier this year in the March 28 issue of the journal Cancer found rates for cancers of the esophagus, uterus, pancreas and kidney were on the rise, with obesity being a likely factor.
"We know more than ever about the most successful strategies that will help Americans live healthier, more active lives and reduce obesity rates and medical costs," Dr. William H. Dietz, director of CDC's Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity, said in a written statement. "In the coming days at our Weight of the Nation conference, CDC and its partners will emphasize the proven, effective strategies and solutions that must continue to be applied to help make the healthy choice the easy choice."
The CDC has more on the Weight of the Nation.