By Victoria Hansenvhansen@abcnews4.com
CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) -- Imagine a world where almost half of all Americans are obese -- where diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease run rampant.
You may not have to use your imagination for long.
A new Duke University study on obesity predicts 42 percent of Americans will be obese by 2030. What's more, 11 percent will be morbidly obese. That means weighing at least twice their ideal body weight.
But you don't have to wait 20 years to see what's happening.
"Our office gets 20 calls a day from people looking for surgery," said Dr. Thomas Karl Byrne.
He's a bariatric surgeon at MUSC.
"It's an absolute epidemic."
So what's the cause? Why are people getting so heavy?
"It's not one thing, " said Dr. Byrne. "It's a multitude of problems. First, we are eating toxic foods, processed foods, fast foods, foods that are addictive."
Think about it. How many kids are growing up on chicken fingers simply because they're cheap and convenient?
"There's going to be a tidal wave of stuff coming our way when these kids reach adulthood," Byrne said.
It's not just what we eat, but how much we eat.
"Portion size is way out of control," Dr. Byrne said. "It's probably triple the size we used to eat, say in the 1950s."
It's also what we do, or not do.
"We're leading sedentary lives," Dr. Byrne said. "We're on our phones, our computers, we don't go outside."
The bigger question perhaps is not just the cause, but how do we fix it? How do we stop ourselves from becoming an obese nation?
"Regulation of the food industry will be impossible in this country," Byrne said. "It's going to take education, a national campaign on what to do, how to eat, what not to eat."
But don't most of us already know? We just choose to do what we want to do?
"I think a lot of people who are seriously overweight, they are disenfranchised. They're not well educated. They don't have insurance and are eating cheap food that is full of calories," Byrne said.
Obesity is not only unhealthy, but costly. The same Duke researchers who conducted this most recent study say the medical-related costs of obesity may be as high as $147 billion a year.
Dr. Byrne sees the costs first-hand, not just monetarily but physically and mentally.
"People who come to us are at the end of their rope looking for help. They are morbidly obese and have tried to lose weight for years. Some have lost as much as 100 pounds, four times."
His surgery does save lives. But it's not the solution.
"This is not the answer for the obesity problem," he said.