NU Online News Service, March 12, 2004, 5:42 p.m. EST – Obesity-related medical problems could account for more than 20% of U.S. health care spending in 2020, up from less than 10% today.[@@]

RAND Corp., Santa Monica, Calif., a think tank, makes that prediction in a new review of its researchers’ studies of obesity rates and disability trends.

Obesity plays a role in disability at all ages, and it now appears to lead to higher health care costs than smoking or drinking do, RAND reports.

Obese adults have about as many chronic conditions as normal-weight adults who are about 20 years older, RAND says.

“The cost consequences of disability among the young could swamp recent Medicare and Medicaid savings stemming from increasingly good health among the elderly,” RAND warns.

RAND notes that U.S. adults think that they are thinner than they really are. When researchers ask U.S. adults about their weight, the answers suggest that fewer than 25% are obese. When researchers actually weigh the subjects, they find that more than 30% are obese.

The proportion of U.S. adults who are at least 100 pounds overweight has increased to 20 per 1,000 lives, up from 5 per 1,000 lives in 1986.