Dec. 18 (UPI) -- Nearly half of all Americans will be obese within the next 10 years, a new analysis has found.
Researchers at T.H. Chan School of Public Health at Harvard University, who will have their findings published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine, also suggest that more than half of the population in 29 U.S. states will be obese.
Currently, the analysis estimates that 40 percent of American adults are obese, with 18 percent severely so.
"Prevention is going to be key to better managing this epidemic" of obesity," lead author Zachary Ward, programmer/analyst at Harvard's Center for Health Decision Science, said in a press release.
For the study, Ward and his colleagues used self-reported body mass index, or BMI, data from more than 6.2 million adults who participated in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System Survey between 1993 and 2016.
BMI is determined by dividing a person's weight in kilograms by the square of their height in meters, and it is often used by doctors to diagnose those who are overweight or obese. In general, obesity is defined as a BMI of 30 or higher, and severe obesity is a BMI of 35 or higher.
The authors' findings showed that, by 2030, several states will have rates of obesity approaching 60 percent, while all states will have a prevalence of obesity higher than 35 percent. They also predict that, nationally, severe obesity will likely be the most common BMI category for women, non-Hispanic black adults and those with annual incomes below $50,000 per year.
"The high projected prevalence of severe obesity among low-income adults has substantial implications for future Medicaid costs," Ward said. "In addition, the effect of weight stigma could have far-reaching implications."
He added that the study findings may help inform state policy makers. For example, previous research has found that sugar-sweetened beverage taxes have been an effective at slowing the rise in obesity rates in some regions.
Still, he and his colleagues acknowledged that their findings are troubling because the health and economic effects of obesity and severe obesity take a toll on several aspects of society.
"Obesity, and especially severe obesity, are associated with increased rates of chronic disease and medical spending, and have negative consequences for life expectancy," noted Steven Gortmaker, senior author of the new study and a professor of the practice of health sociology at Harvard Chan School.