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Country report

Australian report calls for obesity to be classified as a disease

Within a decade two in three Australians will be overweight and one in three adults will be obese
Life expectancy of Australian children will be shorter than earlier generations because of obesity
Accumulated obesity costs are AUS$58.2 billion

The impact obesity is going to have on Australian over the next decade in so great that there have been calls to classify obesity as a disease and new national programmes launched to combat it.

Although it is well-document that Australia is already one of the fattest nations on Earth, this latest report claims that within a decade more than two in every three Australians will be overweight and one in three adults will be obese.

The report, ‘Obesity: a national epidemic and its impact on Australia’, claims that obesity also comes with a huge economic burden. In 2008, the annual financial cost was estimated at AUS$8.3 billion (US$8.9 billion), with additional accumulated costs, the total bill soared to an estimated AUS$58.2 billion.

In addition, research by Monash University claims obesity is the nation's biggest public health threat and it has overtaken smoking as the leading cause of premature death and illness. The study also states that on the basis of present trends, the life expectancy of Australian children will be shorter than earlier generations because of obesity.

The report says obesity is a cause of associated disorders including Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some cancers. It is also associated with osteoarthritis, sleep apnoea and reproductive difficulties.

It says the "epidemic" is driven by the interplay between genetics and the environment.

About 90 per cent of the population is genetically predisposed to becoming overweight and obese which, coupled with fast and "energy-dense" food and sedentary lifestyles, is pushing up obesity rates.

Obesity Australia says it is time for the condition to be treated as a disease in its own right.

"Recognition of obesity as a disease is essential to reducing the stigma around obesity, and also key to increasing community engagement in practices and policies that reduce obesity rates," the report says.

"If obesity rates continue to grow in Australia at current rates over the next decades, it is conceivable that the health and economic cost due to obesity will also grow to overwhelming proportions."

Australia's federal and state governments have declared obesity as one of nine national health priority areas and have launched a number of programmes. But Obesity Australia wants a nationwide prevention plan focused on education of both adults and children, and direct support for treatment including weight loss programmes, pharmaceutical interventions and more publicly funded bariatric surgery.

The report also states that there needs to be significant changes in peoples’ attitudes towards obesity: There is still a strongly held view in the community and among policy makers that obesity is simply an individual’s personal responsibility, and represents a failure in terms of diet and exercise

“In 2013, the American Medical Association formally classified obesity as a disease - the first in the world,” the report states. “The time has come for the Australian Medical Association, and the various colleges - general practice, physicians, and surgeons - to do the same. If obesity is formally recognised as a disease, it makes it much more straightforward to address in general practice, a key driver in community attitudinal change. The academic sector devoted to the study of obesity - from neuroscience to epidemiology to public health - needs to continue amassing the evidence base, informing media reporting and educating the wider community.”

“If obesity rates continue to grow in Australia at current rates over the next

decades, it is conceivable that the health and economic cost due to obesity will also grow to overwhelming proportions,” the report concludes. “Alternatively, if we can commit to an obesity prevention plan starting with defining obesity as a disease and gaining additional federal support for prevention and intervention, then it may not only save billions of Australian tax dollars, but also improve the health and wellbeing of Australians now and for future generations. There is therefore no time to wait.”

To access the report, please click here

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