What the Australian Institute of Wellbeing & Health discovered about overweight and obesity in Australia

In many parts of the world, as well as Australia, overweight and obesity has become a major public health issue. It is among one of the leading risk factors for ill-health such as cardiovascular disease, Type II diabetes and cancer.

In a recent study of two reports: A picture of overweight and obesity in Australia, and Overweight and obesity in Australia: A birth cohort analysis, by the Australian Institute of Health and Wellbeing (AIHW), there were some disturbing insights into the health of our nation.

The study found that over ¼ (26%) of our children that are aged between 2-17 were either overweight or obese in 2014-2015.

If this is broken this down further it was found that 18% of those were overweight and 8% were obese.

This equates to 1.2 million children who are either overweight or obese.

However, the adults fare worse. It was also found that a substantial 2/3 (63%) of adults were overweight or obese in 2014-2015.

When that is broken down, 36% of adults are overweight and 28% are obese.

That is 11.2 million adults who are overweight or obese.

Australia’s population at the same time of the report was 23.7 million.

The report also found that the chances of children being overweight or obese increased if they lived in remote regional areas (1 in 3) 30%, compared with living in the major cities (1 in 4) 25%. Children living in inner regional areas had the lowest rates at 22%.

However, it was found that adults fared less well living in the outer regional remote areas or inner regional areas, with 69% of them being overweight or obese compared to only 61% living in the major cities.

Other interesting statistics showed boys aged between 2-17, 20% were overweight and 7% were obese. Amongst girls of the same age, 16% were overweight and 9% were obese.

Similarly, 42% of adult men were overweight and 28% were obese, compared to adult women where 29% were overweight and 27% were obese.

The indigenous community were also studied in the report but during the years 2012-2013. It was found that the indigenous children aged between 2-14 that were overweight was 20% and that 10% were obese.

In the indigenous 15-17-year-old age group, 35% were found to be overweight or obese with 21% being overweight and 14% being obese.

Indigenous adults were found to be 69% overweight or obese, where 29% were overweight (with men outnumbering the women), and 40% were obese (with women outnumbering the men).

In the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries, the study found that more than half (57%) of 15 year olds and over were overweight or obese in 2016.

Australia’s rate for the same age group is 28% of the population, which ranks us as the 5th highest in the OECD. The US leads at 38.2%.

Since 1995 overweight and obesity rates amongst Australian children aged 5-17 has steadily risen. In 1995 the rate was 21%, in 2007-08 it was 25%, in 2011-2012 it was 26% and in 2014-15 it was sitting at 27%.

Looking at obesity alone, the rates for obesity in the 5-17-year-old age group; in 1995 the rate was 5%, in 2007-08 it was 8% and encouragingly for both 2011-12 and 2014-15 it had dropped by 1% to 7% and remained steady.

Overweight and obesity in Australian adults has also increased over time. In 1995 the rate of overweight and obesity was 57%, in 2007-08 the rate was 61% and like the children, while it hasn’t dropped, it has stabilised for 2011-12 and 2014-15 at 63%.

Looking at just obesity amongst the adults over time; in 1995 the rate of obesity was 19%, in 2007-08 it was 24%, in 2011-12 it was 27% and in 2014-15 it was still rising at 28%.

Compared to 20 years ago, children aged between 10-13 and 14-17 are more likely to be overweight or obese.

The children who were born between 2002-05 who were 10-13 years of age in the reports, 31% were overweight or obese, compared with the 10-13 year olds who were born between 1982-1985, with 24% of those being overweight or obese.

The 14-17 year olds that were born between 1998-2001, 30% were likely to be overweight or obese compared with the same age group born between 1978-1981 at 19%.

There was no real statistical difference between 2-5 year-olds and 6-9 year olds, 20 years apart, but the largest difference occurred between the 18-21 year-olds. 18-20 year-olds born between 1994-1997 there were 15% who were obese compared to those born between 1974-1977 with only 8% who were obese.

It is clear that the overweight and obesity problem is getting worse and that more needs to be done to prevent this from happening, especially amongst our children.

The answer to reducing overweight and obesity in Australia is a complex issue and no-one yet has the answer. Many options for solutions have been suggested such as better nutrition education in schools, less junk food advertising to children or a sugar tax. Other things I think that could help would be to make fast food companies more accountable for the nutrition content in their foods, with maximum amounts allowable for fats, sugars and salt. Another suggestion would be to have school canteens sell their healthy choice options at a more affordable price than the unhealthy choices. There is not one culprit to this problem either, but the high intake of processed foods in our diet certainly plays a large part. If this continues, it will have a significant impact on our health system now and in the future.

Check out the interactive report and insight into overweight and obesity here: https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/overweight-obesity/interactive-insight-into-overweight-and-obesity/contents/what-is-happening-over-time