A new report has revealed that 5.8 million Australians currently live with obesity, and it’s costing the economy approximately $12 billion dollars a year.

The findings

In 2007-08, 2.7 million Australians were living with obesity, but this figure has increased significantly to 5.8 million people living with the condition today.

The proportion of the population living with the condition has increased from 27.9% in 2014-15 to 31.3% in 2019.

Dr Georgia Rigas, Chair of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners’ (RACGP) Obesity Management Specific Interests network has stated that, “The highest growth has been in people with a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or higher. These are the individuals most at risk of developing any of the diseases and/or cancers that are driven by overweight and obesity.”

The findings involving children are just as alarming, given that since 2011–12, the number of young people living with obesity has increased by 60%.

According to Dr Rigas, children with obesity are predisposed to type 2 diabetes, premature arthritis of the knees, fatty liver, infertility and other physical health concerns.

Obesity can also leave people feeling emotionally and socially effected, as those living with obesity are often subjected to bullying and harassment. Those living with obesity may also experience higher rates of anxiety and a higher tendency to leave school early which can negatively impact future job prospects.

The new report also states that children and teenagers with obesity are five times more likely to become adults with obesity.

“This is a real worry, because adolescence is a period of rapid growth and this is when we see significant changes in their physical, neurodevelopmental, psychological and social changes,” Dr Rigas said.

What does this mean?

If the current trends continue, the report predicts that more than 40% of the Australian population will be living with obesity within the next decade.

According to the report, obesity led to $5.4 billion dollars in direct health costs and $6.4 billion dollars in indirect costs in 2017–18.

Dr Rigas suggests a combination approach to rectify this issue, which includes healthy nutrition, physical activity, and step-up therapies such as medication and/or bariatric surgery where appropriate.

“There are going to be periods of relapse and remission and that’s why a supportive primary healthcare team looking after the individual is critical,” she says.

While the approach to managing obesity should be multipronged, Dr Rigas believes it’s also time to break associated stigmas.

“Fat shaming and blaming has been occurring now for decades and we know it’s not helpful; in fact, it’s actually harmful, it acts as a barrier preventing people with obesity coming forth to access medical treatment and support that they need,” she expressed.

What is obesity?

Obesity is a disease associated with having an excess amount of body fat that is caused by genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors.

It is generally diagnosed through Body Mass Index (BMI) and having a BMI of over 30 suggests that a person may have obesity.

Obesity increases the risk of developing a number of health conditions, including high blood pressure, heart disease, Type 2 Diabetes, arthritis, and some types of cancer.

However, it is fully treatable through dietary changes, physical activity and behavioural changes in food consumption.


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