Over 60% of Australian adults are now overweight or obese, according to a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.
The report, Key indicators of progress for chronic disease and associated determinants: data report, featured good news and bad news about the state of Australian health and chronic disease, which includes diabetes, heart disease, cancer and other long term problems.
The number of people dying prematurely from chronic disease has fallen by 17% between 1997 and 2007, which has driven up life expectancy rates to 79.2 years for men and 83.7 years for women (2006-08 figures).
The number of Australian adults smoking daily has also dropped to less than 18%, down from 24% in 1991.
However, 23.1% of children and 61.2% of adults are now overweight or obese, which is linked to diabetes and heart disease.
“Excess weight is associated with many chronic conditions, so the increase shown in these statistics is of concern,” said Ilona Brockway of the AIHW’s Population Health Unit.
“Adopting healthier behaviours is the key to preventing chronic disease. These indicators will help keep an eye on what’s working in chronic disease prevention.”
Professor Boyd Swinburn from Deakin University’s School of Health and Social Development, who was not involved in the study, said deaths from chronic diseases had been falling over recent decades as public health messages about smoking, cholesterol and heart disease started to get through to the public.
“The things that worked to reduce heart disease, we now need to apply those same principles to reduce obesity,” he said, advocating a mix of legislative measures and public health messages.
“There are things that have been proposed to the government, including limiting marketing of junk food, looking at taxation and subsidies to change the financial drivers for obesity and looking at things like promotion of healthy food policies,” he said.
“On the energy expenditure side, it’s about improving public transport options, cycling infrastructure, making sure the built environment is conducive to exercise and making cities more liveable.”
However, public health advocates face a tough fight from food industry lobbyists opposed to measures such as a ban on junk food advertising during children’s television programs, he said.
“There is very strong public support for regulation but the government is not willing to move on it because of the lobbying pressure from the food industry.”