Rethinking obesity

Obesity has now overtaken smoking as the major preventable cause of disease burden in Australia. This demonstrates the great success we’ve had at reducing smoking levels but now an even greater challenge emerges.

We need to turn our attention to what could be an even greater threat to the health and wellbeing of the Australian population: Australia's obesity epidemic.

The Chair of Bupa’s Board, The Hon. Nicola Roxon, when in government led anti-tobacco policy that brought about this world leading success in reducing rates of smoking in Australia. With 12.4% of people smoking, it is among the lowest in the world.

Our recent Bupa Health Foundation thought leadership lunch brought together researchers, clinicians and health leaders to generate renewed interest and ideas on how to address this looming public health crisis.


The message from the day was clear - we must rethink obesity. Obesity is about more than personal responsibility. If we were being honest, there is a belief that obesity is just a matter of self control - eating less and exercising more. We learnt that it is much more complex than that.

Our keynote speaker, The University of Sydney’s Professor Stephen Simpson reminded us that obesity is a chronic relapsing disease process that has complex drivers and as such there is “no single solution”.

There’s a need to shift from a frame of personal responsibility with associated blame and stigmatisation to one of shared responsibility.
The University of Sydney’s Professor Stephen Simpson

It is now well understood that obesity is a complex condition with genetic, biologic and societal roots. We explored these issues through a panel discussion expertly facilitated by ABC journalist Ellen Fanning, who brought together the diverse perspectives on how to address obesity.

The panel included clinician Dr Kathryn Williams and health policy researcher Ali Jones, as well as playwright Alana Valentine, who was a writer in residence at Sydney University’s Charles Perkins Centre, a multidisciplinary research institute with a focus on obesity and improving global health.

Alana read a monologue from her new play Made to Measure which demonstrated the stigma associated with obesity and how as a society we need to change how we speak with those who are living in a bigger body.

Alana’s play is the result of a year spent alongside researchers and clinicians who are looking for new solutions to ease the burden of obesity. It is a great example of how communication of complex scientific topics can be improved by bringing different disciplines together.












Many guests left the event with a new perspective on this major health challenge and a renewed energy to achieve the goal set out in the Australia 2030: Prosperity through Innovation plan released by Innovation Science Australia to be the healthiest country on the planet. This will take a big effort as a recent CSIRO Report found that 63% of Australia’s adults are overweight or obese. If current trends continue it is expected that 83% of men and 75% of women over 20 will be overweight by 2025.




The Bupa Health Foundation has been a long-time supporter of Obesity Australia and a partner in their recent initiative the Obesity Collective whose vision is to transform the way society speaks, thinks and acts on obesity to reduce its impact on us all.

As part of this partnerships we have also committed to funding the Obesity Evidence Hub a comprehensive, easy to use website that will identify, analyse and synthesise the growing science on obesity, obesity prevalence and provide an important platform for policy issues.

Bupa Health Insurance is also currently investigating how it can better support customers to achieve their personal goals around a “healthy” weight.

As a leading provider of health and care in Australia and New Zealand, we understand that tackling obesity cannot be prevented by individual action and needs a whole of community approach.