The study authors then used data from self-reports on health and daily activity to calculate the number of days per year Americans lost due to poor health, and added that to the data from the CDC. These combined to calculate, for the first time, a single estimate of total healthy time lost due to obesity, said Lubetkin, who is associate medical professor in the department of community health and social medicine at The City College of New York.
Illnesses associated with obesity include heart disease, diabetes, various cancers, osteoarthritis, hypertension and depression, Lubetkin said.
Connie Diekman, director of university nutrition at Washington University in St. Louis, said the study made clear that the trend will have a profound effect on society and the health-care system if nothing changes.
More people will work fewer years and need more social support, contends Diekman, and public facilities will need to be redesigned to accommodate heavier people with more health problems who can't walk or climb stairs easily.
"There has been a bit of a tendency to say 'well, that's not me, it's your problem, or it's this race's problem,' whereas this study is saying the impact is going to be on all of us because it does cross all barriers," said Diekman.
"We have long known certain segments of the population are more obese than others and we know the impact is that it triggers more health problems," said Diekman, noting that obesity affects the ability to lead a normal life. The economic strain will be felt by everyone, she said.
Lubetkin said enormous interventions were needed, similar to those used in the fight against tobacco.
"Getting junk food out of the schools, having more recess and gym, discouraging television and computer use" would be a good place
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