Relatively small changes – such as losing as little as three kilograms – could have a significant effect in reducing the negative health effects of obesity in Australia, according to a new report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).
The report, Impact of overweight and obesity as a risk factor for chronic conditions: Australian Burden of Disease Study, shows that if Australians who are at risk of disease due to obesity reduced their body mass index (BMI) by just one point – equating to around three kilograms for a person of average height – the overall health impact of obesity would drop substantially.
The new findings look at the health impact – or ‘burden’ – of excess weight in terms of years of healthy life lost through living with an illness or injury, or through dying prematurely.
Two in three adults and one in four children are overweight or obese in Australia, according to the study, a health burden that increases the risk of chronic disease, including cancer and diabetes.
But the report found the burden of obesity and overweight impacted some groups more than others.
Notably, adults aged 65 – 84 experienced the greatest amount of burden due to issues with being overweight or suffering from obesity. This was mainly from cardiovascular disease, linked cancers and diabetes.
Weight is the second biggest risk factor in terms of the health ‘burden’ (seven per cent), behind only tobacco use (nine per cent).
The report found that if the group of Australians at risk of obesity reduced their weight by one BMI point, the overall health impact of excess weight would be reduced by 14 per cent in 2020.
“Even if we stopped the rising rates of overweight and obesity in Australia by maintaining our weight, about six per cent of this ‘burden’ would be avoided,” said AIHW spokesperson Dr Lynelle Moon.
A total of 22 diseases were included in the analysis, including 11 types of cancer, three cardiovascular conditions and dementia.
Notably, around half of the diabetes burden (53 per cent) and osteoarthritis burden (45 per cent) were due to obesity.