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Australian obesity a public health threat

The number of overweight and obese young Australians is at an all time high - and rising. Recent statistics show Australian children are getting bigger, so we need to act now before it becomes generation XXXL....

Several studies published early in 2003 have drawn attention to the growing problem of overweight and obesity in the developed world. These studies have basically found that being overweight not only harms your health, it shortens your life (Fontaine et al. 2003; Peeters et al. 2003).

obese australiaUnfortunately, recent data collected by Australian researchers has found that the prevalence of overweight and obesity is not only increasing among young Australians, it is actually accelerating. In a study published in the American College of Clinical Nutrition, Dr. Michael Booth and colleagues from the Department of Paediatrics and Child Health at the Children’s Hospital at Westmead, New South Wales, determined changes in the prevalence of overweight and obesity among young Australians aged 7-15 years from 1969 to 1985 to 1997.

The researchers analysed the data from five independent population surveys conducted over that period, specifically those that had studied health and fitness among young people. They examined body mass index, a measure of what’s considered a healthy weight for a person’s height, and classified people as ‘nonoverweight’, ‘overweight’, ‘obese’, or either ‘overweight or obese’.

For 1985-1997, the population prevalence of overweight increased by 60 to 70 per cent; obesity increased two to fourfold; and the combined overweight and obesity categories doubled. These figures were consistent across all of the surveys tested and between boys and girls.

Interestingly, between the period 1969-1985 there was no change in the prevalence of overweight or obesity among girls, but among boys the prevalence of obesity trebled, and the prevalence of overweight and obesity combined increased by 60 per cent. The results sound a very loud warning to young Australians and their families. In 1985-1997 the prevalence of overweight and obesity combined doubled and that of obesity trebled among young Australians, but the increase over the previous 16 years was much smaller. That means that the incidence of overweight and obese accelerated over the last decade or so.

The researchers concluded that as a nation we need to increase our sense of urgency in identifying and implementing effective responses to this major threat to public health. The take home message from these studies is that we must try and keep our body weight under careful control by incorporating exercise and good nutrition into our lifestyle. Families need to look closely at their eating and activity habits to ensure that the incidence of overweight and obesity in Australia is reduced.

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