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CHICAGO (Reuters) - Obesity-related diseases account for nearly 10 percent of all medical spending in the United States or an estimated $147 billion a year, U.S. researchers said Monday.
They said obese people spend 40 percent more -- or $1,429 more per year -- in healthcare costs than people of normal weight.
"It is critical that we take effective steps to contain and reduce the enormous burden of obesity on our nation," Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told a news conference at a CDC obesity meeting where the study was presented.
"Reversing obesity is not going to be done successfully with individual effort," Frieden said. "It will be done successfully as a society."
The CDC outlined 24 new recommendations on how communities can combat obesity in their neighborhoods and schools by encouraging healthier eating and more exercise.
Democratic Senator Tom Harkin, a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee and chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Foresty, said the report underscores why prevention and wellness efforts must be part of any plan to reform the U.S. health system.
"Report after report shows that if we fail to take meaningful steps now on prevention of chronic disease like obesity, healthcare costs will continue to spiral out of control," Harkin said in a statement.
More than 26 percent of Americans are obese, which means they have a body mass index of 30 or higher. BMI is equal to weight in kilograms divided by height in meters squared. A person 5 feet 5 inches tall becomes obese at 180 pounds (82 kg).
For the study, Eric Finkelstein of the non-profit RTI International and researchers at the CDC and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality analyzed medical cost data from 1998 and 2006.
They found U.S. obesity rates rose 37 percent between 1998 and 2006, driving an 89 percent increase in spending on treatments for obesity-related diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and arthritis.
Obesity now accounts for 9.1 percent of all medical spending in the United States, up from 6.5 percent in 1998.
"What we found was the total cost of obesity increased from $74 billion to maybe as high as $147 billion today, so roughly double over that time period," said Finkelstein, whose study also was published in the journal Health Affairs.
An obese Medicare beneficiary spends $600 more a year on drug costs than a Medicare patient of healthy weight.
The CDC's new obesity prevention strategies aim to address issues such as a lack of access to healthy food in poor neighborhoods and sedentary lifestyles that contribute to America's obesity epidemic.
Frieden said soda and sugar-sweetened beverages "play a particular role in the obesity epidemic," noting that Americans consume an extra 150 calories more per day in sugar-sweetened beverages than two to three decades ago.
He said adding a tax to soft drinks might curb consumption but that was not a position held by the Obama administration.
Editing by Maggie Fox and Bill Trott