WASHINGTON -- America's obesity epidemic is hurting the economy, according to reports from a three-day conference held this week by the Center for Disease Control.
Some economists say the issue must be addressed if we ever expect to pay less for health care.
Two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese and the average person is 23 pounds overweight and consumes 250 more daily calories than two or three decades ago.
It's the big-scale reality of a new government study.
"If we want to change it, we have to give people rational information and understand both the economic and psychological pressures that has made this the number one health concern in the country," former President Bill Clinton said.
And as the waistlines expand, medical costs do, too.
A study published in the Health Affairs Journal reveals in 1998, the costs of obesity reached nearly $80 billion.
Ten years later, that number nearly doubled, ballooning to $147 billion.
Now, some health economists are telling Congress -- address obesity or give up on reining in rising health care costs.
"The only way to show real savings in health expenditures in the future is through efforts to reduce the prevalence of obesity and related health conditions," said Eric Finkelstein, a contributor to the report released at the conference.
The costs reflect the price of treating diabetes and heart problems associated with obesity.
According to the study, obese Americans spend an average of $1,400 more on health care than people of a normal weight and their drug costs are through the roof.
Medicare spends about $600 more per year for beneficiaries who are obese.
"There is really no legitimate doubt that if we're able to reduce the prevalence of obesity, we will drastically reduce costs in the middle and long term," CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden said.
It's a societal problem that health officials say can only be addressed through systemic changes -- increasing healthy foods and drinks in public schools, building more grocery stores in poor neighborhoods, and encouraging more mothers to breast feed, which protects children against childhood obesity.
Parents are also encouraged to discourage sugary sodas and other drinks that children love to sip on.
*Originally aired July 28, 2009