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Country report

New study shows rise in Australian obesity

Urban Australia has seen large gains in average weight in the last 30 years. Photo: Flickr / Corey Leopold.
Gains in weight and BMI across "virtually all" age and sex groups between 1995-2008
Lack of exercise and nutrition contributory factors

Urban Australian adults are on average eight kilograms heavier than they were in 1980, according to a new report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

The report, “Risk Factor Trends: Age Patterns in Key Health Risks Over Time”, says that in 2007-8, an estimated 68% of men and 55% of women were overweight and obese. It found “substantial” increases in the rates of overweight and obesity across almost every age and sex group between the years 1995-2008, with the greatest proportion of overweight and obesity being found in those aged 55-74.

The average proportion of adults classified as obese increased from 19% to 25% between 1995-2008.

Between 1995 and 2007-8, overweight and obesity rose from 32%-37% among those aged 18-24, 49%-54% for those aged 25-34, 56% to 63% for those aged 35-44, and 68%-75% for those aged 65-74.

The rate of overweight and obesity among boys aged 5-11 rose from 14% in 1995 to 22% in 2007-8, but remained steady at 22% among girls of the same age.

Overall, for Australians aged over 5, the percentage who were obese rose by 6% from 16% to 22%, while those who were underweight dropped by 6% from 51% to 45%, between 1995 to 2007-8. The percentage who were overweight stayed steady, at 33%.

The report also found low levels of healthy habits in diet and exercise.

Seven in ten adults were physically inactive - defined as taking part in no, very low, or low levels of exercise in a given week - the same level as was found in 1989-1990.

In 2007-8, 54% of adults did not eat enough fruit, and 93% did not eat enough vegetables; this rose to 83% and 84% for males aged 12-17, and 75% and 85% for females aged 12-17, respectively.

The increase in weight led to an increase in average adult BMI, from a median of 25.7 in 1995 to 26.3 for adults.

Overweight or obese Obese
1995 2007-08 1995 2007-08
Per cent 95%CI Per Cent 95% CI Per Cent 95% CI Per Cent 95% CI
Men 63.7 62.5-65.0 67.7 66.2-69.1 18.5 17.6-19.5 25.5 24.0-26.9
Women 48.8 47.6-50.0 54.7 52.7-56.6 18.9 17.9-19.8 23.6 22.0-25.3
All adults 56.3 55.6-57.0 61.2 60.0-62.5 18.7 18.1-19.2 24.6 23.4-26.7

Proportion of adults aged 19 or over who were overweight or obese, 1995 and 2007-8. Source: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, “Risk Factor Trends: Age Patterns in Key Health Risks Over Time”.

To create the report, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare used data from a number of surveys, particularly the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ National Health Surveys from 1989-90, 1995, 2001, 2004-5, and 2007-8.

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