global obesity report a shock to NZ healthy “kiwi” image
Emily Bourke reported this story on Thursday, May 29, 2014 08:25:00
CHRIS UHLMANN: It’s a trans-Tasman contest that we should be happy to lose. A global study of almost 200 countries has found that over the last 30 years New Zealand has just edged out Australia to post the largest absolute increase in adult obesity.
But together the rates of obesity in our region are climbing faster than anywhere else in the world and almost a quarter of Australia’s children and 63 per cent of its adult population now tips the scales as overweight or obese.
Health authorities say the report should prompt the Federal Government to commit to a national anti-obesity strategy.
Emily Bourke reports.
EMILY BOURKE: It’s the first global survey to comprehensively track trends in the prevalence of overweight and obesity in 188 countries in all 21 regions of the world from 1980 to 2013. And it’s found more than half of the world’s 670 million obese individuals live in just 10 countries – and they include the United States, China, India, Russia, Mexico, Egypt and Indonesia. But over the past three decades, Australasia has outpaced other regions of the world with the largest absolute increase in adult obesity.
Professor Alan Lopez was among the international researchers working on the global burden of disease analysis.
ALAN LOPEZ: We are at the levels of overweight and obesity as the United States is. Three decades ago obesity levels in Australia were a half to a third of what they are now.
We need to understand that overweight and obesity is not just something at an individual aesthetic level. It has serious health consequences that ought to be taken much more seriously by the public health community of Australia.
EMILY BOURKE: The data published in the Lancet shows that the situation is slightly worse in New Zealand, but that’s of little comfort to Australia.
ROB MOODY: We’ve put weight on collectively and we’ll have to take weight off collectively, I am sure.
EMILY BOURKE: Rob Moody is Professor of Public Health at Melbourne University.
ROB MOODY: It’s no longer just a problem of the rich or wealthier countries like Australia; it’s a problem now in many parts of the developing world, particularly in the Pacific and the Caribbean, but also in China and India.
So that’s the first thing, it’s a major global problem driven by global forces such as processed food and otherwise called junk food and junk drink industries.
It’s also driven by a change in the way that we live. These major rises have occurred over a pretty short period of time and there hasn’t been a sudden change in our genes; nor has there been a huge failure of personal responsibility or of will.
And we know in some countries where they’re not doing nearly as badly, you know, Japan, Spain, France, parts of northern Europe, you know, they seem to have sort of healthier food environments than we do in Australia. Ours is much more like the US with saturation advertising.
And we unfortunately in Australia suffer from the fact that the kings of Australian sport, whether they’re in AFL or cricket or NRL, they are basically ambassadors of junk food and junk drinks.
EMILY BOURKE: Health experts are calling for a return to the waistlines of 1980 to prevent unsustainable health consequences.
Jane Martin from the Obesity Policy Coalition says the report is further evidence that Australia needs a national anti-obesity strategy.
JANE MARTIN : It’s the same sort of approach that we used very, very successful in tobacco control and Australia’s a real leader.
And what that’s about is looking at how do you increase the price of unhealthy foods; reduce the price of healthy foods – that’s why we are so concerned about the potential for a GST to go across healthy foods; keep looking at advertising and marketing of foods and in particular protecting children.
It’s around looking at policies around food that is supplied by institutions that are funded by government. It’s looking at encouraging smaller serving sizes; having social marketing campaigns that give education to people and help put it on, you know, the individual’s agenda in an environment where it pushes people to make healthier choices and be more active. You know, there’s a lot of things that can be done.
CHRIS UHLMANN: Jane Martin from the Obesity Policy Coalition. Emily Bourke with that report.