Obesity in Australia is an epidemic with increasing frequency. The Medical Journal of Australia found that Obesity in Australia more than doubled in the two decades preceding 2003, and the unprecedented rise in obesity has been compared to the same health crisis in America. The rise in Obesity has been attributed to poor eating habits in the country closely related to the availability of fast food since the 1970s, sedentary lifestyle and a decrease in the labour workforce.

Classification of Obesity

Weight is measured by using the Body Mass Index scale (BMI). This is determined by dividing weight in kilograms by height in metres, squared. If someone is overweight their BMI will be at 25 or more. If someone is obese their BMI will be at 30 or more.

Classification of Body Mass Index (BMI)

Underweight
< 18.50

Normal Range
18.50-24.99

Overweight
>25.00

Obese
30-34.99

Morbid Obese
35-39.99

Super Morbid Obese
> 40.00

Prevalence of Obesity in Australia

In a study published in 2015 by the US journal of Economics and Human Biology, Obesity is found to have the largest impact on men aged over 75, and women aged between 60-74.

In 2005, a study was conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics that compared the results of a 2004-05 survey with those conducted in the preceding 15 years. The results showed an increase in the number and proportion of adults who are overweight or obese. Over the four surveys, the number of overweight or obese adults increased form 4.6 million in 1989-90 to 5.4 million in 1995, 6.6 million in 2001 and 7.4 million in 2004-05.

In 2007, the World Health Organization (WHO) found that 67.4% of Australian adults are overweight, ranking 21st in the world, and third out of the major countries in the Anglosphere, behind the United States (ranked 9th) and New Zealand (ranked 17th).
A 2005 WHO study found that just over 20% of Australian adults are obese, which is expected to rise to roughly 29% in 2010 if current trends continue.

In the 2005 National Health Survey, 53.6% of Australians reported being overweight (above a 25 body mass index BMI), with 18% falling into the “obese” category (above a 30 BMI). This is nearly double the reported number from 1995, when 30% of adults were overweight and 11% were obese. Such representations would be skewed downward as people tend to overestimate their height and under-report their weight, the two key criteria to determine a BMI reading. In the National Health Survey, obesity reports were fairly common across the board, with no major outliers. Victoria (Australia) had the lowest incidence of obesity, at 17.0% of the population, with South Australia reporting the highest numbers at 19.6%. By 2014, Canberra recorded an obesity rate of 25% which was placing significant strain on ageing health care infrastructure.

In a study conducted by The Obesity Society, between 2000 and 2025, the adult population prevalence of normal healthy weight will decrease from 40.6% to 22.9%. In conjunction with this, the prevalence of obesity will increase from 20.5% to 33.9%. It is also estimated that by the time 25- to 29-year-olds of 2000 reach the age of 60-64 (2040), over one third will be obese.

Diabetes and Cost of Obesity

In May 2008, Diabetes Australia, the national body for diabetes awareness and prevention, told the Australian House of Representatives that the cost of obesity on the country’s health system in 2005 was an estimated AUD$25billion (US$20billion), In August 2008, Diabetes Australia’s estimation more than doubled to $58billion ($46billion USD), this time taking into account not just health care but job productivity and other related quality of living costs.

In 2003, the number of Australians with type 2 diabetes rose to nearly a million for the first time. In addition, the number of type 2 diabetes patients who were diagnosed solely on their weight was calculated at 242,000 in 2007, a 137% increase in cases in the previous three years.

In 2008 using the Body Mass Index scale, obese Australians (indirectly and directly) cost the nation $8.3 billion. Out of the $8.3 billion, $2.0 billion was the cost of the health system.

Government Response

In April 2008, the Australian Federal Government added obesity to its list of “national health priorities,” officially elevating it to the same standard of attention given to other deadly ailments such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes. On 1 June 2009, the first Parliamentary comment on obesity in Australia was published, with the Standing Committee on Health and Ageing recommending 20 acts for the Federal Government to consider, including tax incentives to make healthier fruits and vegetables more affordable for Australians, and pressing the government to work with the food industry to lower fat and sugar levels in existing processed food. These recommendations covered a range of issues affecting obesity in Australia. The government agreed to the majority of the recommendations including to continue supporting the Active After-School communities program which lead more children to have more positive attitude towards physical activity and agreeing to develop consistent urban planning guidelines that focus on creating environments that encourage Australians to be healthy and active.

The former Australian Labor Party|ALP government under Prime Minister Julia Gillard wanted to tackle the obesity problem in Australia by giving tax subsidies which would fund gym memberships to people who wish to lose weight. Her watchdog group, the National Preventative Health Taskforce, also wants to target childhood obesity by banning ads for junk food during the daytime when most children’s television programs air.

In August 2008, the government of New South Wales announced that it would pay for morbidly obese patients to receive weight loss surgery, the first state to make such an announcement. Most Australians who wish to have such surgery have to go to a private hospital and pay for the procedure themselves, which costs $10,000 ($10,000 USD). A survey in Western Australia suggests that the number of patients who have undergone weight loss surgery has increased 20-fold in the past 20 years, with nine out of ten patients opting for the lap band procedure.

According to The Obesity Society Australia, if obesity rates continue to grow in Australia at this current rate over the next few decades, it is conceivable that the health and economic cost due to obesity will also grow to overwhelming portions.

Causes of Obesity

Obesity could be a combination of the following:

The genes you inherited from your parents
How well your body turns food into energy
Your eating and exercising habits
Your surroundings
Psychological factors

Major Health Risks

Shorter Life Expectancy (compared to people of normal weight, obese people have a 50% to 100% increased risk of dying prematurely)
Diabetes (type 2)
Joint problems (e.g., arthritis)
High blood pressure
Heart disease
Gallbladder problems
Certain types of cancer (breast, uterine, colon)
Digestive disorders (e.g., gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GORD)
Breathing difficulties (e.g., sleep apnea, asthma)
Psychological problems such as depression
Problems with fertility and pregnancy
Urinary Incontinence


Treatment Options

  • Non-Surgical Treatment

Dieting, exercise, and medication have long been regarded as the conventional methods to achieve weight loss. Sometimes, these efforts are successful in the short term. However, for people who are morbidly obese, the results rarely last. For many, this can translate into what’s called the “yo-yo syndrome,” where patients continually gain and lose weight with the possibility of serious psychological and health consequences. Recent research reveals that conventional methods of weight loss generally fail to produce permanent weight loss. Several studies have shown that patients on diets, exercise programs, or medication are able to lose approximately 10% of their body weight but tend to regain two-thirds of it within one year, and almost all of it within five years**. Another study found that less than 5% of patients in weight loss programs were able to maintain their reduced weight after five years*.

  • Surgical Treatment

Weight Loss Surgery is NOT cosmetic surgery. All doctors recognise that once a patients weight exceeds a certain range they are more likely to suffer from a wide range of illnesses such as diabetes, sleep apnoea, asthma, hypertension, arthritis, varicose veins and skin problems. Their chances of dying at a premature age is also greatly increased. Their employment prospects, mobility and social acceptance also suffers. Depression is much more common in the morbidly obese. The main aim of this surgery is to bring your weight down to a safer range where most of these associated conditions are reduced in severity and many completely reversed. Along the way most people find an improvement in their mobility, body image, self-esteem and enjoyment of life.