Obesity epidemic for Australians

04/05/2003

EMBARGOED UNTIL 12.00 NOON SUNDAY 4 MAY 2003

The prevalence of obesity in Australia has more than doubled in the past 20 years. There is an association between obesity and too much television watching, according to research published in the latest edition of the Medical Journal of Australia.

A recent national survey of over 11,000 people for the AusDiab study showed that almost 60 per cent of Australians were overweight or obese. The prevalence of overweight and obesity in Australian city dwellers 25-64 years of age has shown a 2.5-fold rise since 1980.

The survey measured body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference, which is a good indicator of visceral fat (the fat around body organs), type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

The nationally representative AusDiab data show that Australia also has one of the highest rates of type 2 diabetes in the developed world.

"Australia's alarming rate of obesity urgently demands action on many levels to prevent further rises in the prevalence of diseases such as type 2 diabetes," said Professor Paul Zimmet, co-author of the research and Director of the International Diabetes Institute in Melbourne.

"While the correlation between energy intake and exercise is important, reducing the time spent in sedentary activities such as watching television could be an important target for preventing and treating obesity," Professor Zimmet said.

"Even active people showed a high risk of obesity if they also watched a lot of television," he said.

"Obesity is lower in young women than in young men, but a more rapid rise in BMI in women results in women overtaking men by the age of 35-44 years for obesity and 55-64 years for mean BMI.

"More people with lower educational attainment tended to be obese, and middle income men tended to be more obese than lower income men.

"Obesity is also associated with cardiovascular disease, some cancers and arthritis. The cost to the community is high," Professor Zimmet said.

Professor Zimmet called on the Federal and State Governments to identify obesity prevention as a top priority within relevant departments such as Health, Education, Sports, Agriculture, Environment and Transport".

The Medical Journal of Australia is a publication of the Australian Medical Association.

CONTACT: Professor Paul Zimmet, 0418359151, 0392585049 (W)

Sunday 0398279963 or 0398277923

Judith Tokley, AMA, 0408 824 306