Two-thirds of Aussies are overweight, data reveals

Two-thirds of Australian adults are overweight or obese, and it’s placing a significant burden on our healthcare system, according to the latest state and territory health data released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

These were the findings of the most recent National Health Survey (NHS), a highly detailed look at the health of the nation that uses hospital data from state and territory jurisdictions.

The AIHW data revealed 66 per cent of adult Australians could be classed as either ‘overweight’ or ‘obese’, with people living in disadvantaged areas more likely to be classed as one of those.

Breaking it down further, 34 per cent of adults are overweight – defined as having a body mass index (BMI) between 25 and 30 – while 32 per cent could be called obese (BMI of 30 or above).

Being overweight is the second-most common risk factor (behind tobacco smoking) for a wide range of chronic conditions, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers.

War of the sexes

While both genders were amply represented in obesity figures, with more than half of both men and women recording a waist circumference indicative of future health problems, men were more likely to be overweight or obese than women by nine per cent (72 per cent vs 63 per cent)

Perhaps unsurprisingly, rates of overweight or obesity tend to increase with age for both sexes. For men, the proportion increased from 42 per cent of those aged 18–24 to a peak of 81 per cent at ages 65–74.

For women, 41 per cent aged 18–24 were overweight or obese to a peak of over 70% in those aged 55–64 and 65–74 (ABS 2023c) (Figure 1).

Where you live matters

In general, the data shows a negative correlation between the socioeconomic area a person lives in and their likelihood of being overweight or obese, that is, the lower a socioeconomic area, the more likely it is its residents are overweight.

Sixty-eight per cent of adults in the lowest socioeconomic areas were overweight or obesity compared with only 60 per cent of those living in the highest socioeconomic areas. 

The data showed remoteness also plays a role in your weight. Adults in ‘inner regional’ (68 per cent) and ‘outer regional and remote’ (70 per cent) areas were more likely to be overweight or obese compared with people living in major cities.

Why is this such a problem?

Because being overweight or obese greatly increases the burden of disease for a number of conditions. Burden of disease is a measure of the years of healthy life lost from living with ill health or dying prematurely from disease and injury. Analysing the burden of disease analysis estimates the contribution of these risk factors to the burden.

Being overweight or obese is the most common risk factor contributing to ill health and death, and is responsible for 8.4 per cent of the total disease burden in Australia.

Obesity is linked to over 30 diseases, including 17 types of cancers, four cardiovascular diseases, three musculoskeletal conditions, type 2 diabetes, dementia, asthma and chronic kidney disease.

Being overweight or obese was responsible for:

  • 55 per cent of type 2 diabetes disease burden
  • 51 per cent of hypertensive heart disease burden
  • 49 per cent of uterine cancer burden
  • 43 per cent of gout burden
  • 42 per cent of chronic kidney disease burden (AIHW 2021).

Weight problems contributed to around 16,400 deaths (10 per cent of all deaths) during the surveyed period.

How’s your weight these days? Could you be classed as overweight? Let us know in the comments section below.

Also read: How much weight do you need to lose to improve your health?

Brad Lockyer
Brad Lockyer
Brad has deep knowledge of retirement income, including Age Pension and other government entitlements, as well as health, money and lifestyle issues facing older Australians. Keen interests in current affairs, politics, sport and entertainment. Digital media professional with more than 10 years experience in the industry.
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