Obesity Time Bomb
by Helen Taylor
By Tamara McLean of The daily Telegraph Back to Top of your health online page
June 19, 2008 12:00am
AUSTRALIA is officially the heavyweight champion of the world, according to new figures showing the nation has a greater proportion of obese citizens than the United States.
The latest comprehensive obesity study has shown that 26 per cent of adult Australians - almost four million – are now obese, one million more than the last calculation in 1999.
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The findings give Australia top spot as the world's most overweight nation, ahead of the notoriously super-sized Americans, who have a 25 per cent obesity rate.
"That, unfortunately, makes us the heavyweight champions, a title we don't really want,'' said Professor Simon Stewart, head of preventative cardiology at the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute.
Experts are now calling for extreme measures like gym discounting and denial of surgery based on body mass index (BMI) to rectify the situation.
The report, entitled Australia's Future Fat Bomb, was released ahead of the federal government's obesity inquiry.
It presents the results of height and weight checks carried out on 14,000 adult Australians nationwide in 2005, giving the most thorough picture of obesity since the AusDiab study in 1999.
The report reveals that nine million adults have a BMI over 25, making them overweight or obese, an increase from seven million.
Four million are obese, up from three million.
Middle-aged Australians are leading the way, with seven in 10 men and six in 10 women aged 45 to 64 now registering a BMI of 25 or more.
An analysis of the data shows that there will be an extra 700,000 heart-related hospital admissions in the next 20 years due to obesity alone.
Almost 125,000 people will die as a result, many prematurely.
"I would regard this as now the biggest threat to our future health,'' Prof Stewart said.
"As we send our athletes off to the Olympics let's reflect on the fact that we would win the gold medal now in the world fat Olympics if there was such a thing.''
The report calls for a national weight loss strategy on the scale of smoking and skin cancer campaigns, including subsidising gym memberships and personal training sessions for heavier people.
Wait lists for surgery could be prioritised on the basis of weight loss.
"This isn't just targeting a small group,'' Prof Stewart said.
"We're talking about the majority who fit into these categories now.
"These are some of the controversial things we need to deal with because the healthcare system is going to be overwhelmed by weight-related hospitalisations from knee replacements through to heart attacks and strokes.''
Professor Ian Caterson, director of the Institute of Obesity, Nutrition and Exercise at the University of Sydney, agreed such measures were needed.
"Governments have to start thinking outside the square because as we get fatter and older as a nation things are just going to get worse,'' Prof Caterson said.
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