Obesity is one of the biggest health issues facing Australians today. It is forecast that 35% of Australians will be obese by 2025. What is the cause of this epidemic and what can be done to address it?
Why do we have an obesity epidemic?
It is generally recognised that changes in lifestyle and food consumption have contributed significantly to the escalating incidence of obesity. Some of these include:
- An increase in sedentary behaviour.
- A reduction in physical exercise.
- Higher consumption of high caloric takeaway and instant foods.
- An increase in food portion sizes.
- Reduced intake of fruit and vegetables.
- Greater intake of soft drinks and junk food.
What is obesity?
Obesity is a state of abnormal or excessive fat tissue. Body Mass Index (‘BMI’) is commonly used as a proxy for obesity. This is calculated by dividing an individual’s weight in kilograms by their height in meters squared. A BMI exceeding 30 is considered to indicate a state of obesity.
There are many health risks associated with obesity: it is a risk factor or aggravator for at least 30 common health conditions and can have a significant impact on a person’s physical, mental and social wellbeing .
Someone who is obese can also be malnourished. This means that although they are getting more than enough energy, they aren’t getting all the nutrients they need. An example of this is sarcopenic obesity, where insufficient protein is consumed to support healthy muscle tissue
Obesity, gender, age and socio-economic status
The obesity epidemic affects some populations more than others (2014-15 data).
- Males are more likely to be overweight than females, from middle age (45+).
- Those in the most socially-disadvantaged groups are most at risk of becoming obese.
- People who live in rural areas are nearly 9% more likely to be overweight or obese than those who live in cities.
- Western Australia has an overweight/obese population rate 7% lower than that of Tasmania.
It’s one thing to know those most at risk but finding an effective management strategy can be difficult, given the many factors at play .
The obesity rate
The rate of obesity is increasing rapidly, jumping from 18.7% of total population in 1995 to 27.5% in 2012. This is placing a greater strain on the healthcare system, as more people become exposed to higher risk of serious health conditions . An evidence-based report from Obesity Australia concluded that the total cost of obesity in Australia was $14 billion per annum (2011-12).
What does the future hold? Unfortunately, health experts think the obesity epidemic is only going to get worse. They predict that:
- 35% of Australians will be obese by 2025.
- 13% of adults will be severely obese – with a BMI over 35 – by 2025.
- There will be an increase in all obesity related conditions, including heart disease and diabetes.
Despite the bleak outlook, experts believe that people can prevent and even reverse obesity .
How can obesity be addressed?
Despite the epidemic, obesity is a substantively preventable condition that can be managed or avoided with lifestyle and dietary interventions; for example:
- Determining an appropriate diet
- Undertaking regular physical exercise
- Reduced consumption of processed foods, sugar, saturated and trans-fats
- Increased consumption of fruit and vegetables
That is not to say that the challenge is simple to overcome, or that the issue is not complex. Changes in modern day lifestyles and consumption behaviours likely need to be considered in identifying an effective solution. One also cannot ignore that food manufacturing companies may have a significant role to play here and that socio-economic conditions may be an influencing factor in people’s (poor) food choices.
A societal strategy is required to address the human costs of obesity and the untenable burden that it places on the healthcare system. This will demand a multi-disciplinary approach from all stakeholders. Both government and expert nutrition groups can help to combat the obesity epidemic by developing policies and education programmes that support healthy food choices and increased physical activity.
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- “The Cost Of Malnutrition In The US? $15.5 Billion For Medical Costs”. 2016. Nutraingredients-USA.Com. http://www.nutraingredients-usa.com/Research/The-cost-of-malnutrition-in-the-US-15.5-billion-for-medical-costs/?p2.
- “Overweight And Obesity Statistics”. 2017. The Heart Foundation. Accessed September 20. https://www.heartfoundation.org.au/about-us/what-we-do/heart-disease-in-australia/overweight-and-obesity-statistics.
- “Profiles Of Health, Australia, 2011-13”. 2013. Abs.Gov.Au. http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/by%20Subject/4338.0~2011-13~Main%20Features~Overweight%20and%20obesity~10007.
- “Australian Obesity Rate To Hit 35% By 2025”. 2016. Nutritioninsight.Com/. http://www.nutritioninsight.com/news/Australian-Obesity-Rate-to-Hit-35-by-2025.html.