Australia sitting on a "fat bomb"

The revelation that Australia is apparently now the fattest nation in the world, has been a cause for alarm.

According to a new report from the Baker Heart Research Institute in Melbourne, 9 million adult Australians are now obese or overweight, more than the U.S., and the nation is facing a ticking "fat bomb" with the potential to cause 123,000 premature deaths over the next two decades.

Experts warn that unless the crisis is averted, obesity related health costs could exceed $6 billion with an extra 700,000 people needing to be admitted to hospital for heart attacks, strokes and blood clots as a result of excess weight.

The latest figures indicate that 4 million Australians or 26% of the adult population are now obese compared to an estimated 25% of Americans and a further 5 million Australians are considered overweight.

The report, Australia's Future 'Fat Bomb', presents a dire picture where ever expanding waistlines are the product of increasing demands for fast food, and decreasing levels of physical activity.

Experts say those most at risk of premature death are the middle-aged, with 70% of men and 60% of women aged 45 to 64 now classed as obese.

However weight specialists point out that the tool used to measure obesity, body mass index (BMI), can be misleading as many top athletes and sportsmen and women according to their BMI would also be classed as overweight.

BMI is measured by dividing weight in kilograms by height in metres squared and a BMI of over 25 is considered overweight while more than 30 is obese - but no distinction is made in the calculations between muscle and fat, and many believe a more realistic BMI overweight limit would be 28.

Leading nutritionist Professor Jenny O'Dea from the University of Sydney endorses the new report and says the crisis for adults has been drastically underestimated.

The report is based on data on more than 14,000 people at 100 rural and metropolitan sites in every state and territory across Australia, where BMI was recorded by weight, height and waist measurements taken during a national blood pressure screening day conducted last year.

The report's lead author, Professor Simon Stewart, says that even allowing for the BMI's potential failings, the best case scenario was that 3.6 million adults were battling obesity.

Professor Stewart, the head of preventative cardiology at the institute, says the figures show that Australia is a 'heavyweight champion'.

The report calls for a national strategy to encourage overweight Australians to lose five kilograms in five months which could reduce heart-related hospital admissions by 27% and cut deaths by 34% over the next 20 years.

Radical solutions such as 'fat towns' competing for 'healthy' status in national weight loss contests tied to Federal Government funding, are also proposed, where cash to build sports centres and swimming pools would be awarded to the winners.

Also suggested are subsidised gym memberships, personal training sessions for heavier people and restrictions on obesity surgery unless patients agree to lose weight beforehand.

A crackdown on junk food marketing to children is also called for along with better nutritional labelling of food and drinks.

Health minister, Nicola Roxon, says the extent of Australia's obesity was staggering and many will be shocked to find Australia is rated as a fatter nation than America.

Ms Roxon says the government hopes to have a nationwide strategy for weight reduction implemented within a year, including gym membership rebates.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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