29th Mar 2011

Battle of the bulge

Drew Patchell

In early 2008 Australia gained the title of ‘fattest country in the world’… not the land… but the inhabitants. Read Drew’s report and recommendations for a healthier waistline.

In recent years, Australia has overtaken America to become the most obese country in the world (per capita). A figure which is not only scary for the health of all Australians, but will have a detrimental affect on the nation’s health system in the near future.

Australia recorded a 26% obesity rate compared to America’s 25%. While statistics don’t lie, the measurement used could be called into question with the Body Mass Index (BMI) being the statistical framework for the study. If we were to use the BMI to rate celebrities such as Hugh Jackman or Johnny Depp, we would find Hugh measures in as overweight (28 BMI) and Johnny also as overweight (27 BMI).

There is no doubt that in the last two decades, the weight of the average Australian has been on the increase. We spend less time outside and more inside watching the ‘idiot box’ or increasingly, on the computer, especially those working in front of one for 8-10 hours a day.

The government recently released it’s first step at trying to battle this important health issue called ‘Stop It, Don’t Swap It’. The campaign is an attempt to inform Australians on how to lose weight and live a healthy lifestyle by making a few easy changes to everyday life such as reducing how much we eat, reducing the amount of junk food consumed by reducing the number of times we eat junk food every week and, by spending an hour a day being active instead of sitting in front of the TV.

While all of these suggestions are valid and will help many average Australians who do not possess such a mindset, it may not be enough. Obesity is a serious issue which affects the person, not just physically, but also mentally. Just as an addiction to drugs, eating food can be one of the few things a person enjoys in life and as such, should be treated as a serious issue.

There are two factors which I believe prevent the average Australian from getting into the mindset of weight loss and switching to a healthier lifestyle. The first factor is motivation, or lack thereof. Motivation can be easily obtained by surrounding oneself with like minded individuals who are trying to achieve the same goal. This is evident in the success of weight loss programs such as Jenny Craig which are not just about the food but the support given to each person in the group. The second factor is to do with the person’s income. With increasing food prices and outrageous gym fees, it is very hard for the average Australian to provide their family with a healthy, tasty meal every day of the week, as ‘junk food’ is cheaper in bulk. Many families cannot afford to pay upwards of $50 per month for a gym membership per person. Currently, there is no government support for people in low income households to be able to exercise in an environment such as a gym, which provides structure to a work-out regime.

What should the government’s next steps be?

The funding of a program which allows families in low income households access to discussion support groups is a good first step. This provides an outlet to express why the person is in the situation and the support of a group to help each other through the weight-loss process. The group would need to be run by a nutrition/fitness expert who could help provide the group with the information they need to move their lives towards a healthier lifestyle.

The funding should also allow this group of people access to gym memberships at a greatly reduced cost, depending on their household income. To gain these reduced prices, they would need to meet strict guidelines (at least 10 sessions a month at the gym, etc.) otherwise they lose access to the scheme. Finally, low income families should be encouraged to buy healthy food products. A Government funded discount scheme should be put in place which allows them access to approved foods such as healthy vegetables, fruits and meats at a reduced price.

The long term effects of a program such as this should easily pay for itself when you look at a the information contained in a 2008 Access Economics report on obesity which found obesity was costing Australia $58 billion a year. The report also found that obesity caused about 24 per cent of type 2 diabetes and osteoarthritis, 21 per cent of cardiovascular disease and 20 per cent of colorectal, breast, uterine and kidney cancers.

There is no point providing Australians with information when they cannot afford to put those new measures in place. It is time to take action.


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