New statistics: Australia’s obesity epidemic reaches crisis point

A new study into obesity in Australia has revealed there is almost 1 million more people living with obesity compared to just three years ago. Experts say the issue is sytemic and that the stigma and shame around obesity is harmful and unfair. 

The report Weighing in: Australia’s growing obesity epidemic reveals some alarming new obesity statistics:

  • Two thirds (67%) of Australian adults are either overweight or living with obesity
  • There are 900,000 more people living with obesity today (not including those who are overweight), compared to just 3 years ago
  • The number of peoplewith obesity has more than doubled in the past decade from 2.7 million to 5.8 million.

Researchers say if the current rate continues, 40% of Australian adults will be obese within the next 10 years.

Anna Peeters, Director of the Institute for Health Transformation at Deakin University, said the obesity epidemic isn't about individuals making the wrong choices, there is a far greater systemic issue which needs to be addressed.

She said the stigma and shame around obesity is unfair and harmful.

“It is not just a lifestyle choice or due to a lack of willpower as many people assume, we know that there are strong social, biological and environmental drivers of obesity that are outside of people’s control,” she said.

“There are major equity considerations here with Indigenous, non-metro and people living in lower socio-economic status communities being impacted more.”

The new figures are part of a report prepared by the Collective for Action on Obesity, a group which has been formed in response to Australia’s obesity epidemic. It includes more than 100 organisations, including Bupa, which have all joined forces to launch a campaign to fight obesity.

Annette Schmiede, a founding member of Collective for Action on Obesity and Executive Leader of the Bupa Health Foundation has called for drastic action saying the latest obesity statistics highlight a need for Australia to act fast.

“We are fast heading down the road the United States has travelled and they have discovered exactly how much it costs in terms of health and taxpayer dollars,” Ms Schmiede said.

The report indicated the financial burden of obesity in Australia is estimated to be $11.8 billion. Those figures consist of $5.4 billion in direct health costs and $6.4 billion in indirect costs.

John Dixon, GP and obesity researcher at Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute, said the statistics tell part of the story, but that things are even more dire than the raw figures suggest.

“Overweight and obesity is a driver for 22 diseases including diabetes, musculoskeletal conditions, cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, asthma, dementia and various cancers.”

It is estimated that 4,000 cancer cases each year are caused by overweight and obesity and 7% of the total health burden is due to overweight and obesity.
Dr John Dixon, researcher at Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute

“This problem puts enormous pressure on the health system. The risk of complications and mortality impacts in this class of obesity increases and the costs to people’s health and quality of life are immense.

Stephen Simpson, Executive Director of Obesity Australia and Academic Director of the Charles Perkins Centre said an extra 900,000 Australians living with obesity in just three years is a genuinely alarming statistic.

“The notion that 40 per cent of Australians will live with obesity in 10 years is shocking," he said.

The group is pleading with the government and other organisations to act fast.

"Obesity needs to be a national priority if we’re going to turn this around,” said Mr Simpson.

Find out more about the Obesity Collective.


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