Obesity rates in Australia are climbing faster than anywhere else in the world, according to a new study.
The results of the global study into obesity rates, published in the medical journal The Lancet, show almost a quarter of the country’s children and 63 per cent of the adult population is overweight.
Australia’s obesity levels are now on par with the United States, but slightly less than New Zealand.
The study has prompted health experts to call on the Federal Government to commit to a national anti-obesity strategy.
Obesity Policy Coalition spokeswoman Jane Martin says obesity is an issue that governments can tackle in a number of ways.
“It’s around looking at policies around food that are supplied by institutions that are funded by governments,” she said.
“[It’s about] looking at encouraging smaller serving sizes, having social marketing campaigns that give education to people and help put it on the individual’s agenda, and in an environment where it pushes people to make healthier choices and be more active.”
Professor Alan Lopez, who was among the international researchers working on the study, says the numbers should be of concern.
“We are at the levels of overweight and obesity as the US is, three decades ago obesity levels in Australia were a half to a third of what they are now,” he said.
“We need to understand that overweight and obesity is not just something at an individual aesthetic level, it has serious health consequences.
“It ought to be taken much more seriously by the public health community in Australia.”
Australia gripped by fast food culture
Professor Rob Moodie, former chair of the National Preventative Health Taskforce, says as other areas of Australian health improve, obesity rates are getting dramatically worse.
“Put New Zealand and Australia together, we really have major levels amongst our kids, let alone amongst our adults – 75 to 80 per cent of middle-aged men are overweight in Australia,” he said.
As chair of the National Preventative Health Taskforce between 2001-2008, Professor Moodie says he saw the issue of obesity became increasingly worse.
“We did a major report on tobacco, alcohol and obesity. Since then, Australia’s got an A + for tobacco, no doubt about that. For obesity, you would give us an E -,” he said.
Professor Moodie says about 5 million Australians are obese, and for a large part the culture around food is to blame for multigenerational obesity.
“It’s now an Australian cultural issue. It’s a global issue as well but it’s around what’s the environment in which people actually live, work, play, eat and exercise,” he said.
“Unfortunately our diet has changed pretty dramatically over 30 years.
“The composition [of] what we’re eating has changed, the really high levels of sugar and fat in our food.”
Professor Moodie says the Government needs to regulate the fast food industry, and stop advertising unhealthy food to children.
“The kings of Australian sport are major ambassadors of junk food and junk drinks. That’s what our kids learn,” he said.
“You look up to these wonderful sportsmen, and they’re chomping away on junk food.”