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Trimming Obesity Would Save U.S. Cities Billions in Health Care Costs, Study Finds

Jan. 28, 2011 -- Cities searching for ways to trim the fat and stretch their budget dollars may want to start looking at residents’ waistlines.

A new study suggests that trimming high obesity rates in the nation’s most overweight cities could help local governments save more than $32 billion annually nationwide in associated health care costs.

New information from the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index shows more than 6 in 10 or 62.9% of American adults were either overweight or obese in 2010, slightly more than the 62.2% reported in 2008.

Researchers estimate that direct health care costs associated with obesity are about $50 million each year per 100,000 residents in U.S. cities with the highest obesity rates.

That means if the nation’s 10 most overweight cities -- each with more than a third of its residents classified as obese with a body mass index (BMI) over 30 -- reduced their obesity levels to the 2009 national average of 26.5%, they could collectively save nearly $500 million in health care costs each year.

Obesity Rates Remain High

The 2010 survey of more than 300,000 American adults showed obesity rates nationwide remained essentially unchanged, with 26.5% reported in 2009 and 26.6% in 2010, but higher than the 25.5% reported in 2008. The percentage of Americans classified as overweight with a BMI of 25-29.9 also remained stable at about 36%.

Obesity rates remained highest among African-Americans, with 36% classified as obese in 2010. Low-income and middle-aged adults aged 45 to 64 were also more likely to be obese.

Overall, researchers found obesity levels increased with age until age 65, with a decline in obesity rates thereafter. The groups least likely to be obese include high-income Americans, young adults, and Asian-Americans.

Cities Bear Uneven Obesity Burden

The survey also shows that the burden of obesity in the U.S. continues to vary by city and region. For example, 28% or more of Americans living in the South and Midwest were obese in 2010, compared with less than 26% in the East and less than 24% in the West.

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