Keeping the obesity rate stable could mean savings in medical costs of more than $550 billion over the next 20 years, a new public health study has found.

Researchers analyzed data from organizations such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System and found that 42 percent of the U.S. population could be obese by 2030. Their findings suggest that an additional 32 million obese people could strain the U.S. healthcare system over the next 20 years.

The study, by researchers at Duke University, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and RTI International, an independent, nonprofit research and development organization based in North Carolina, also predicts that the number of people who are severely obese will increase to as much as 11 percent by 2030. Severe obesity is defined as a body mass index (BMI) over 40, or being about 100 pounds overweight.

An additional 32 million obese people could strain the U.S. healthcare system over the next 20 years.

Those who are severely obese are at the highest risk for health conditions caused by excess weight, such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Such conditions usually mean higher medical costs and more frequent absences from school or work.

“Should these forecasts prove accurate, the adverse heath and cost consequences of obesity are likely to continue to escalate without a significant intervention,” Justin Trogdon, senior author of the study and a health economist at RTI, said at the conference.

“We know more than ever about the most successful strategies that will help Americans live healthier, more active lives, and reduce obesity rates and medical costs,” William H. Dietz, director of CDC’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity pointed out.

He went on to say that although Americans must make healthy choices, those choices must first be made available to them. The study was published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine on May 7 and presented at the CDC’s Weight of the Nation conference in Washington, D.C. that same day. The next day, the Institute of Medicine issued a report, “Accelerating Progress in Obesity Prevention: Solving the Weight of the Nation,” that thoroughly recommendations for obesity prevention.

The report identifies the steps that are the most likely to help fight the obesity crisis in the U.S. Some of these steps include: integrating physical activity into everyday life, better nutrition education in schools, and involving insurers, employers, and healthcare professionals in obesity prevention.