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Australians taking fat chance with their health

17 Dec 2013

Australians are in denial about one of the biggest threats to their health, a major survey has found.

The Healthy Living Index Survey, commissioned by insurer AIA, found that cancer topped the list of health worries for Australians, with 49 per cent nominating developing cancer as their major health concern.

But a substantial majority were relatively unconcerned about the threat to health posed by being overweight or obese, despite the fact this was a far more probable risk to their wellbeing.

The survey of 600 people found that only 29 per cent were worried about the health implications of being overweight or obese, and just 10 per cent were concerned about diabetes.

These are striking findings, because the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development reported late last month that Australia had the fourth highest rates of obesity in the world (behind the United States, Mexico and New Zealand), and more than 1.7 million Australians have diabetes.

Chair of the AMA Council of General Practice Dr Brian Morton told the Daily Telegraph the finding showed there was a “brain disconnect” in the community between health risks and behaviour.

“We see cancer as out of our control and random, but our consumption of alcohol, what we eat and smoking are all linked to it,” he said, adding that people needed to be some “skin in the game” to start taking greater responsibility for their health.

The survey found that most people were conscious of the need to slim down, with 73 per cent indicated that they hoped to lose weight.

But little more than half (57 per cent) were taking concrete steps to improve their diet by drinking more water and eating more fruits and vegetables.

Less than a third said they were trying to reduce the amount of alcohol they drank.

Research presented to a national obesity conference in Melbourne late last month suggests the effects of being overweight or obese can bridge generations.

University of New South Wales researcher Professor Margaret Morris found that the offspring of overweight or obese rats were more likely to become overweight themselves than the descendants of lean rodents.

“Pollutants, obesity, even stress, can alter how genes are expressed in offspring without altering the genetic code,” Professor Morris told the Daily Telegraph.

Obesity experts said general practitioners had a central role to play in helping prevent and treat obesity, but warned their ability to carry out this crucial work was being hampered by Government policy.

Obesity Australia head John Funder told the Canberra Times that GPs were ideally placed to treat obesity co-morbidities such as diabetes, but much of such work was not being done because there was no Medicare Benefits Schedule item for the treatment of obesity.

Adrian Rollins


Published: 17 Dec 2013