Reducing Americans' average body mass index by just 5 percent could save $29 billion in health care costs in five years, according to a new report by the Trust for America's Health.
The analysis found the country could save $158.1 billion in 10 years and $611.7 billion in 20 years. Body mass index is a number calculated by using a person's height and weight.
Two-thirds of Americans are either obese or overweight, and obesity is related to more than 30 illnesses, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some forms of cancer. The report notes that the rate of obesity among Medicare patients doubled from 1987 to 2002, and spending on those individuals more than doubled.
Rising health care expenses raise costs for health insurers, which pushes up medical insurance premiums that consumers and employers pay.
The study found that if current trends continue, obesity rates could grow to between 50 percent and 51 percent for men, and to between 45 percent and 52 percent for women by 2030. Currently, 32 percent of men and 35 percent of women are obese.
The analysis is based on a model developed by researchers at the National Heart Forum.