Obesity in Australia

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According to 2007 statistics from the World Health Organization (WHO), Australia has the third-highest prevalence of overweight adults in the Anglosphere.[1]

Obesity in Australia is an "epidemic"[2] with "increasing frequency."[2][3] The Medical Journal of Australia found that obesity in Australia more than doubled in the two decades preceding 2003,[4] and the unprecedented rise in obesity has been compared to the same health crisis in America.[4]

Prevalence of obesity in the Australian population[edit]

Australian adults[edit]

In 2007, the World Health Organization (WHO) found that 67.4% of Australian adults are overweight,[1] ranking 21st in the world, and third out of the major countries in the Anglosphere, behind the United States (ranked 9th) and New Zealand (ranked 17th).[1] A 2005 WHO study found that just over 20% of Australian adults are obese,[3] which is expected to rise to roughly 29% in 2010 if current trends continue.[3]

In the 2005 National Health Survey, 53.6% of Australians reported being overweight (above a 25 BMI), with 18% falling into the "obese" category (above a 30 BMI).[5] This is nearly double the reported number from 1995, when 30% of adults were overweight and 11% were obese.[6] Such representations would be skewed downward as people tend to overestimate their height and under-report their weight, the two key criteria to determine a BMI reading.[3] In the National Health Survey, obesity reports were fairly common across the board, with no major outliers. Victoria had the lowest incidence of obesity, at 17.0% of the population, with South Australia reporting the highest numbers at 19.6%.[5] By 2014, Canberra recorded an obesity rate of 25% which was placing significant strain on ageing health care infrastructure.[7]

Indigenous population[edit]

Indigenous Australians have Australia's highest level of obesity.[8] A 2001 study showing that 31% of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders were obese, nearly double the national average at that time.[8]

A University of Alberta study, conducted in 2006, noted that 60% of Aborigines over the age of 35 in Western Australia tested positive for diabetes.[9] Health issues such as heart disease, obesity, and diabetes have lowered the life expectancy for Aborigines to 17 years below the national life expectancy, a gap that continues to grow.[9]

Professor Paul Zimmet at Monash University, who conducted the aforementioned study of diabetes rates among Asian immigrants, released figures at the Diabetes in Indigenous People Forum in Melbourne, estimating the rate of diabetes from poor diet at 24% of all Torres Strait Islanders[10] and remarked that unless extra steps are taken with these groups, the Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders will die out within 100 years.[10]

Immigrant populations[edit]

First-generation immigrants to Australia are more obese and have higher rates of obesity-related behaviours than white Australians or Australians of foreign ancestry whose families have been in the country at least two generations.[citation needed] A study conducted by the International Diabetes Institute at Monash University showed that Asians, Pacific Islanders, and Middle Eastern immigrants who moved to Australia were diagnosed with diabetes at a higher level than the average.[citation needed] The increase was explained by the adoption of a Western diet in place of a more healthy "traditional" diet more common in their native countries, as well as adopting a more sedentary lifestyle which is ubiquitous in developed countries.[citation needed]

Australian children[edit]

The percentage of overweight and obese children in Australia, despite rapid increases in the 1980s and the first half of the 1990s, have remained mostly steady for the past 10 years, with 23 to 24% of Australians under the age of 18 classified as overweight, and 5 to 6% of the same demographic classified as obese.[2]

Increased media attention on childhood obesity, in 2007 and 2008 especially, caused many researchers to print findings that the rate of obesity for children has reached a plateau[2] or that the claims are simply "exaggerated."[2][11] The reports caused Dr. Rosanna Capolingua, President of the Australian Medical Association, to issue a statement admonishing people and media outlets for "trivialising" the issue.[11]

The implementation of public health interventions in child care services has been recommended in Australia as a key strategy in the prevention of children becoming overweight or obese, especially in rural and remote areas of Australia. Quantifying the prevalence of obesity among children attending child care from non-metropolitan areas throughout Australia may be particularly important as the access to obesity prevention resources and professional development opportunities for child care service staff is limited. Financial constraints often experienced by smaller rural and remote child care services may limit their capacity to promote and encourage physical activity and health care to children participating in the child care services provided to them.

The study conducted by Wolfenden et al. found that approximately 17% of all children and 25% of indigenous children attending rural and regional child care services in the study area were overweight or obese.[12] Such prevalence rates remain unacceptably high and confirm the need of prevention interventions targeting obesity in this setting.

For childhood obesity, the influence of broader parental and community contexts needs to be considered. Studies have found that young overweight boys spent significantly less time away from their parents than non-overweight boys. It is possible that this is because young boys that spent a lot of their time with their parents were more likely to participate in sedentary activities, such as watching television or playing video games, than they were to participate in any kind of physical activity.

Jones et al. (2010) study found that early school years may be the time when child, parent and community characteristics begin to differ between overweight and non-overweight children, and may be an ideal time to target broader parental and community contexts influencing overweight and obese children.[13]

Diabetes and cost of obesity[edit]

In May 2008, Diabetes Australia, the national body for diabetes awareness and prevention, told the House of Representatives that the cost of obesity on the country's health system in 2005 was an estimated A$25 billion (US$20 billion),[14] In August 2008, Diabetes Australia's estimation more than doubled to $58 billion ($46 billion USD), this time taking into account not just health care but job productivity and other related quality of living costs.[15]

In 2003, the number of Australians with type 2 diabetes rose to nearly a million for the first time.[4] In addition, the number of type 2 diabetes patients who were diagnosed solely on their weight was calculated at 242,000 in 2007, a 137% increase in cases in the previous three years.[15]

Government response[edit]

In April 2008, the Australian Federal Government added obesity to its list of "national health priorities," officially elevating it to the same standard of attention given to other deadly ailments such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes.[2] On 1 June 2009, the first Parliamentary comment on obesity in Australia was published, with the Standing Committee on Health and Ageing recommending 20 acts for the Federal Government to consider, including tax incentives to make healthier fruits and vegetables more affordable for Australians, and pressing the government to work with the food industry to lower fat and sugar levels in existing processed food.[16]

The former ALP government under Prime Minister Julia Gillard wanted to tackle the obesity problem in Australia by giving tax subsidies which would fund gym memberships to people who wish to lose weight.[17] Her watchdog group, the National Preventative Health Taskforce, also wants to target childhood obesity by banning ads for junk food during the daytime when most children's television programs air.[17]

In August 2008, the government of New South Wales announced that it would pay for morbidly obese patients to receive weight loss surgery, the first state to make such an announcement.[18] Most Australians who wish to have such surgery have to go to a private hospital and pay for the procedure themselves, which costs $10,000 ($10,000 USD).[18] A survey in Western Australia suggests that the number of patients who have undergone weight loss surgery has increased 20-fold in the past 20 years, with nine out of ten patients opting for the lap band procedure.[19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Lauren Streib (8 February 2007). "World's Fattest Countries". Forbes. Retrieved 12 February 2009. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f Siobhain Ryan and Natasha Bita (9 January 2009). "Childhood obesity epidemic a myth, says research". The Australian. Retrieved 5 July 2009. 
  3. ^ a b c d Mandy Biggs (5 October 2006). "Overweight and obesity in Australia". Parliament of Australia. Retrieved 5 July 2009. 
  4. ^ a b c Amanda Dunn (5 May 2003). "Australia, US the most overweight". Melbourne: The Age. Retrieved 5 July 2009. 
  5. ^ a b National Health Survey stats
  6. ^ About Overweight and Obesity
  7. ^ Ewa Kretowicz (29 April 2014). "Obesity crisis proves a weighty issue for Canberra Hospital". The Canberra Times (Fairfax Media). Retrieved 29 April 2014. 
  8. ^ a b "Obesity epidemic hits Indigenous Australia". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 10 December 2003. Retrieved 5 July 2009. 
  9. ^ a b "International study links aboriginal health, lifestyle, local decision-making". The Canadian Press. 3 July 2009. Retrieved 5 July 2009. 
  10. ^ a b Tamara McLean (13 November 2006). "Threat to entire races". The Courier-Mail. Retrieved 5 July 2009. 
  11. ^ a b "Obesity epidemic exaggerated: report". Sydney Morning Herald. 31 May 2008. Retrieved 5 July 2009. 
  12. ^ Wolfenden et al. 2011, ‘Prevalence and socio-demographic associations of overweight and obesity among children attending child care services in rural and regional Australia’, Nutrition and Dietetics, vol. 68, pg 15-20, retrieved 18 May 2012, https://d2l.deakin.edu.au/d2l/lp/navbars/navbars/externalLink.d2l?ou=30174&k=c_5029
  13. ^ Jones et al. 2010, ‘Relationships between child, parent and community characteristics and weight status among young children’, International Journal of Pediatric Obesity, vol. 5, pg 256-264, retrieved 18 May 2012, https://d2l.deakin.edu.au/d2l/lp/navbars/navbars/externalLink.d2l?ou=30174&k=c_5029
  14. ^ "Obesity costing Australia billions". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 12 May 2008. Retrieved 5 July 2009. 
  15. ^ a b Siobhain Ryan (22 August 2008). "Girth by sea: obesity costs Australia $58 billion a year". The Australian. Retrieved 5 July 2009. 
  16. ^ Obesity in Australia Report - "Weighing It Up" (PDF 43KB)
  17. ^ a b Sue Dunlevy and Xanthe Kleinig (25 June 2009). "Subsidies for people to lose weight and get fit". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 5 July 2009. 
  18. ^ a b Louise Hall (3 August 2008). "State to pay for obesity surgery". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 5 July 2009. 
  19. ^ "Obesity surgery numbers skyrocket: study". The Age. 17 August 2008. Retrieved 5 July 2009.