the cover of a federal guide about nutrition and obesity prevention

Obesity's Costs Reached $147 Billion Last Year

CDC's inaugural conference focused on solving the soaring obesity rate follows its first comprehensive recommendations, issued Friday. The 24 recommendations include reducing sugar consumption, healthier diets, and much more physical exercise by children and adults.

A "Weight of the Nation" conference began Monday in the nation's capital, headlined by former President Bill Clinton, and was the backdrop for CDC's new push to halt what its leader and experts call the "epidemic" of American obesity. Obesity is now responsible for 9.1 percent of U.S. total medical expenditures, up from 6.5 percent in 2008, and one in three U.S. adults has a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher, officially qualifying as obese.

The experts published a paper in Health Affairs today and a comprehensive list of recommendations last Friday in CDC's MMWR. The Health Affairs paper's authors -- including Dr. Eric Finkelstein, director of the Public Health Economics Program at RTI International in Research Triangle Park, N.C., and Dr. William Dietz, director of CDC's Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity -- estimate obesity's medical costs may have reached $147 billion per year by 2008. Medical costs are 40 percent higher on average for an obese person in this country than for a person of normal weight, and the average American today is 23 pounds overweight, CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden, MD, MPH, said in a news briefing today.

The MMWR paper, "Recommended Community Strategies and Measurements to Prevent Obesity in the United States," are CDC's first comprehensive recommendations to halt the growth of obesity. The 24 recommendations are aimed at encouraging healthier diet, increasing physical activity, decreasing consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages (possibly through a soft drink tax), local incentives to boost farm production and bring the foodstuffs to consumers' tables, and more emphasis on physical education programs in schools.

"It is critical that we take effective steps to contain and reduce the enormous burden of obesity on our nation," Frieden said. "These new recommendations and their proposed measurements are a powerful and practical tool to help state and local governments, school districts, and local partners take necessary action."

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