The US medical system spends around twice as much treating preventable health conditions caused by obesity than it does on cancer, Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Tuesday.
"We're spending just under 150 billion dollars a year on health conditions related to obesity," Sebelius told the first-ever national conference on obesity to be organized by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
"We have a situation where health conditions related to obesity have nearly twice the cost-impact on the health system as all the cancers combined in this country."
The American Cancer Society, she noted, estimates that all cancers combined cost the health system around 93 billion dollars a year.
Her comments came a day after a study released at the conference found that medical spending on obesity-related conditions could reach a whopping 147 billion dollars a year.
Two-thirds of US adults and one in five children are overweight or obese, putting them at greater risk of chronic illness like heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes, according to reports released Monday at the three-day "Weight of the Nation" conference.
"If there were an epidemic in this country of children getting cancer at the rate they are presenting with diabetes, I think we would have people crying out for some sort of national solution," said Sebelius.
"But weight problems, because they don't present themselves as dramatic problems till later in life, we have been slow to act."
But Sebelius pledged that would change, as reducing rampant obesity in the United States was at the heart of President Barack Obama's plan to overhaul the healthcare system that leaves some 47 million Americans uninsured.
"President Obama and I are committed to delivering a healthcare system that provides all Americans with better quality and lower costs, and fighting obesity is at the heart of these goals," Sebelius told the conference.
"Keeping people healthy and reducing chronic disease will dramatically lower our costs... chronic diseases are not only responsible for 75 percent of the costs but also for about 70 percent of the deaths.
"Reducing obesity would be one of the biggest steps we could take towards this," she added.