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Obesity Rates: The Numbers continued...

The report, published today in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, also found that for 2006, medical costs linked with obesity were estimated at as much as $147 billion, expressed in 2008 dollars. On an individual level, an obese person has estimated medical costs that are $1,429 higher per year than people of normal weight.

No figures are available on what part of that $1,429 is out of pocket, Dietz says, although he says that research should be done.

Obesity Rates: A Closer Look

Some ethnic groups have higher rates of obesity than others, the report found. As a group, non-Hispanic blacks had a 36.8% obesity rate, while Hispanics had a rate of 30.7%. Non-high school graduates had a rate of 32.9%.

Older adults were also more likely to be obese, with 31.1% of people aged 50 to 59 obese and 30.9% of people aged 60 to 69.

Obesity Rates: A Second Opinion

''I'm not surprised," says Naomi Neufeld, MD, clinical professor of pediatrics at the University of California Los Angeles David Geffen School of Medicine and founder of KidShape, a national program for overweight and obese children.

"It's gone up because in the throes of this double-dip recession, Americans are so stressed they still turn to food for comfort," Neufeld tells WebMD. "Even if they know better, they are going to eat what's stress reducing. What is surprising is it didn't go up more, given the stressful conditions under which Americans are living right now."

She says more practical measures are needed to help people on an individual level. "I have not seen significant changes on the front-line level that would promote sound behavior in nutrition and exercise,'' she says.

What's needed, for instance, are ratings of food in the market that are easier to understand than the nutrition labels, she says. People with healthy habits need breaks on health insurance costs, she says.

Children have a difficult time understanding the food guide pyramid, Neufeld says. Instead of teaching them the entire pyramid, focus on one nutrient, such as fiber. "Once they have mastered that, you can go on to the next."

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