‘We can call this an epidemic’: Obesity rates double in 10 years

Evelyn Lewin

27/03/2019 2:58:34 PM

A new report has revealed 5.8 million Australians currently live with obesity, costing the country almost $12 billion a year.

Man with obesity
With a new report finding one third of Australian adults are living with obesity, expert Dr Georgia Rigas calls the situation an ‘epidemic’.

‘We can really call this an epidemic.’
That is Dr Georgia Rigas, Chair of the RACGP Obesity Management Specific Interests network, commenting on findings of a major report released by the Collective for Action on Obesity.
Among the key findings was that the national obesity rate has doubled in the past decade.
While 2.7 million Australians were living with obesity in 2007–08, that figure has soared to 5.8 million people living with the condition today. It also found that almost a million more people are living with obesity in the last three years alone.
That means the proportion of the population living with the condition has increased from 27.9% in 2014–15 to 31.3% today.
‘This is a staggering result,’ Dr Rigas said.
The proportion of people living with overweight and obesity has been increasing consistently since 1990, with current rates at 67% of the population.
The highest relative growth has been in people in the Class III category – those 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, Dr Rigas said.
While one-third of adults are now living with obesity, the statistics are just as worrying when it comes to children.
‘We have one in four children aged two and above that are above a healthy weight. That’s 1.2 million Australian children, of which 400,000 are living with obesity,’ Dr Rigas said. ‘So this is quite serious, especially 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. There are also the emotional effects of obesity, which include bullying, depression, anxiety, and a higher rate of leaving school early, which then negatively impacts their future job prospects.
The new report also states that children and teenagers with obesity are five times more likely to become adults with obesity.
‘I’d like to turn the spotlight now onto adolescents living with obesity, as they are often lost in conversations about adults and children,’ Dr Rigas said.

Dr Rigas believes adolescents with overweight and obesity ‘are often lost in conversations about adults and children’. 

According to the report, the last three years has seen a 57% increase in obesity in those aged 16–17 years, with Dr Rigas noting that one in 10 adolescents in that age group is now living 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,’ she said.
‘And these changes can occur both in a positive and negative direction.
‘As GPs we’re very well placed to try to do something about [overweight and obesity rates in adolescents] and intervene early on in the piece, so we can actually change the weight gain trajectory that these young people often find themselves on.’
If the current trends continue, the future looks just as bleak, with the report predicting that more than 40% of the Australian population will be living with obesity in the next decade.
According to the Collective for Action on Obesity report, obesity led to $5.4 billion in direct health costs and $6.4 billion in indirect costs in 2017–18.
While the effects on both the individual and society are alarming, there is no simple solution, Dr Rigas said.
‘Being a chronic, progressive health condition, we know that we’re going to need a combination approach,’ she said. ‘This 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.’
While the approach to managing obesity should be multipronged, Dr Rigas believes it 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,’ she said.  ‘It acts as a barrier preventing people with obesity coming forth to access medical treatment and support that they need.
‘If there was one take-home message that the Obesity Collective would like people to know [it’s that] obesity is not a lack of willpower, nor a lack of moral fibre. People don’t choose to have obesity.’

obesity Obesity Collective overweight

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Hermann Meyer   28/03/2019 10:40:07 AM

In an environment, that offers access to unlimited amount of calories, 24/7, we as humans are genetically programmed to increase weight. There is no evolutioay benefit in losing weight. The problem thus presents itself as mainly cultural/societal. Dietary habits were culturally encoded and only led to the current outcome fairly recently. The medicalisation of the issue has pros and cons. On the plus side, we, as doctors, are given the chance to influence behavior. On the negative side we tend to call this a "condition" that people "suffer" from. This denies the fact, that people do have agency. They can change. If that was not the case, why talk to them in the first place?
The vexed question is, what changes do we advocate?
I personally have embarked on regular fasting regimes and have talked a lot of my patients into doing the same with mostly good results. The important point here is that this is not a one off fix. It has to become part of the culture, repeated periodically.

Paul Neeskens   28/03/2019 1:03:17 PM

I am sorry but EPIDEMIC is the wrong word. Oxford Dictionary "Definition of epidemic - a widespread occurrence of an infectious disease in a community at a particular time".
Obesity is not infectious. Obesity in not a disease. It relates to one genes and ones personal habits and it is a risk factor for disease. similar to hypertension and cholesterol.
The parallel to infectious disease is misleading. There is a sense of being a victim when one contracts an infectious disease. The obese are not victims of some eternal agent.
The GLUT of Obesity is a serious problem for our society. As is alcoholism, domestic violence and drug misuse. But it is not an infectious disease.
EPIDEMIC is the wrong word.