Obesity: Australians fatter earlier than ever

feet on scales,which say "SOS"

Adults are now more likely to gain weight at an earlier age, compared with the past – and most people put on weight every year, says Professor Clare Collins, spokesperson for the DAA and accredited practicing dietitian.

“Adults who are currently at an ideal weight have a 50% chance of becoming overweight and a 25% chance of being obese over a 30-year span,” she told the AJP.

“Adults gain weight throughout life, especially in specific life periods: for example, men are more likely to gain weight after marriage, whereas women tend to gain weight during pregnancy and midlife. Also, weight gain can occur after giving up smoking and/or changing residence, and this has been reported for both sexes.

“The reality is that most people gain some weight every year. Australia’s Healthy Weight Week (16-22 Feb) is raising awareness as to how to turn this around such as by making small pledges (as part of the ‘Make a pledge’ campaign via the AHWW website to change some aspects of your eating habits.”

Since launching in 2008, the AHWW “Eat better, feel better” message has reached millions of Australians, and Dietitians Association of Australia tracking shows this reach is growing year-on-year, says Prof Collins.

“The involvement of celebrities in more recent years has provided more visibility for the campaign. Award-winning celebrity cook, Callum Hann, and Accredited Practising Dietitian, Themis Chryssidis (both from Sprout), supported the 2014 campaign and will again be AHWW ambassadors in 2015.

“Celebrity chef Luke Mangan was involved in the 2013 campaign. Their involvement has linked well with the recent focus of AHWW – to encourage more Australians to cook at home as a way to help achieve and maintain a healthy weight.

“The number of AHWW events being held across the country has also exploded in the past few years, with more than 300 events registered through DAA for the 2015 campaign.”

Most Australians are completely unaware of the adverse consequences of excess body weight, Prof Collins says.

“From psychosocial issues such as bullying, discrimination, and bias though to high blood pressure, high cholesterol and blood sugar to infertility, gall bladder disease and chronic disease (such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke) and some cancers, the consequences are high.

“In 2010, the total direct costs of overweight and obesity were estimated to be upward of $21 billion per year.

“The good news is that small amounts of weight loss can improve your health. Research has shown that maintaining a weight loss of just 5% from your starting weight halves your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.”

Encouraging everyone to make small changes in their eating and lifestyle habits to prevent further weight gain is a good first step, she says.

Part of this involves educating consumers about what’s actually healthy. The Healthy Diet Study – Galaxy Research 2014, which surveyed more than 1000 Australians aged 18 to 64 revealed that 87% of Australians say they are confused when it comes to eating healthily, mainly due to conflicting information about what comprises healthy food (59%).

“The most popular source of dietary advice is friends and family, and the vast majority of Australians have never consulted a doctor (57%) or a dietitian (74%) about what we eat,” Prof Collins says.

“The latest Australian Dietary Guidelines were released in 2013 by the Commonwealth Department of Health. They provide guidance on choosing foods for good health (including the types and amounts of foods) and to reduce risk of chronic health problems. DAA encourages Australians to base how they eat on the ADGs.

“However, sadly just 6.8% of Australians (aged two years and over) eat enough vegetables and just over half (54%) eat enough fruit, based on people’s self-reported usual consumption of these foods.

“In addition, we’re overdoing the ‘discretionary’ foods, with more than one third (35%) of daily total energy intake coming from foods and drinks with very little nutritional value, but which are high in saturated fat, sugar, salt and/or alcohol.”

She encourages pharmacies to direct customers to the Healthy Weight Week website to look for an accredited practicing dietitian, and to consider holding an AHWW activity or event, or handing out DAA resources such as nutrition tip sheets.

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