Obesity rate depends on where you live: report

Regional New South Wales is home to the highest obesity rates in Australia  according to the Australian Health Tracker by Area report released on Thursday.

Around 42 per cent of the population in regional NSW is obese, which is more than three times the rate of obesity in wealthier suburbs in Perth, Sydney and Melbourne.

On World Obesity Day, the report highlights the impact of where people live and wealth on people’s health.

The national obesity rate has risen 27 per cent over the past decade. Two thirds of Australians are now considered overweight or obese.

“We have spent too long as a nation expecting individuals to be able to change their behaviour to reduce their weight,” said Professor Rosemary Calder from health policy think tank, the Mitchell Institute at Victoria University.

“However, the evidence is very clear that this has little chance of success without a very strong focus on the environmental factors in the places where we live that contribute to poor nutrition and inactivity.”

Prof. Calder was not surprised that Australia’s wealthier suburbs have the lowest rates of obesity.

“These suburbs are usually green and leafy, with more space dedicated to parks, gardens and recreational facilities. They often are well serviced by public transport, bike paths and are relatively close to where people work which enables people to be physically active in their commute to work, rather than rely on the car. They have a greater density of shops selling fresh fruit and veg, greater competition promoting lower prices for healthy foods and fewer fast food outlets,” she said.

“People in our wealthier suburbs tend to have better access to information about healthy diet and the financial means to access healthy food options and enjoyable physical activity.”

Prof. Calder said policy change was needed to ensure that low-socio-economic communities in regional areas and new suburbs have access to infrastructure that supports a healthy lifestyle.

“The establishment of a national preventive health taskforce by the Federal Minister for Health is an essential first step in the right direction. It is vitally important that governments at all levels focus on collectively addressing the impact of where we live on our health,” she said.

“Local governments are critical to local planning and the creation of healthy and active spaces for their residents. However, they are often hampered by lack of funding and regulatory power.”

Prof. Calder also said that policies governing sugar and salt content in processed foods needs to be addressed, similar to the UK, which has significantly reduced the salt content in processed food, a major contributor to poor health, particularly in low socio-economic communities.

The Australian Health Policy Collaboration, led by the Mitchell Institute, found the percentage of obesity in the following communities (by council area):

Least obese

  • Nedlands, WA: 12.8 per cent
  • Claremont, WA: 14 per cent
  • Ku-ring-gai, NSW: 14.2
  • Mosman Park, WA: 14.3
  • Willoughby, NSW: 14.4
  • Cambridge, WA: 14.4

Least overweight or obese

  • Perth, WA: 47
  • Melbourne, Vic: 48.8
  • Nedlands, WA: 48.5
  • Claremont, WA: 49.5
  • Cottesloe, WA: 49.8
  • Mosman Park, WA: 49.8

Most obese

  • Wellington, NSW: 43.9
  • Katherine, NT: 43.3
  • Lachlan, NSW: 42.5
  • Forbes, NSW: 42.5
  • Blayney, NSW: 42.6

Most overweight or obese

  • Katherine, NT: 77.8
  • Murrumbidgee, NSW 77.3
  • Carrathool, NSW: 77.2
  • Lachlan, NSW: 77.1
  • Forbes, NSW: 77

Do you live in any of these areas? Do you agree that the government needs to do more to help support healthy lifestyles, or should this be up to the individual?

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Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca is a voracious reader who loves words. You'll often find him spending time in galleries, writing, designing, painting, drawing, or photographing and documenting street art. He has a publishing and graphic design background and loves movies and music, but then, who doesn’t?
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