Regional Australians more likely to be overweight, smoke

Australians living in regional areas are more likely to be overweight or obese, according to a report released today by the AIHW.

A second report, also available today, reveals a similar pattern in relation to daily tobacco smoking with adults in regional areas more likely to smoke daily than their city counterparts.

The Healthy Communities reports look at local-level variation in obesity and smoking rates across Australia’s 31 Primary Health Network areas.

The first report, Healthy Communities: Overweight and obesity rates across Australia, 2014–15, shows that the highest rate of overweight and obesity in adults was 73% in Country South Australia, while Northern Sydney had the lowest rate at 53% – still over half the adult population in that area who were overweight or obese.

When looking at just obesity (a body mass index of 30 and above) a wider variation was seen in adults across PHN areas.

“With obesity we see even wider variation with 16% of adults who were shown to be obese in Central and Eastern Sydney, compared with 38% in Country South Australia. Again, the highest obesity rates were recorded in regional areas,” says AIHW spokesperson Michael Frost.

Today’s second report, Healthy Communities: Tobacco smoking rates across Australia, 2014–15 shows that while daily smoking rates in Australia have continued to fall, they remain relatively high in some PHN areas – particularly regional areas.

“Northern Sydney had the lowest rate of daily smoking at around 5%, while Western NSW had the highest rate of 23%,” Frost says.

“Overall, regional PHN areas had higher smoking rates than city-based PHNs.”

Following the report’s release public health experts from Deakin University’s Global Obesity Centre warned governments must stop ignoring the solution to health inequity.

Researchers from the Centre (GLOBE) argue the consensus among experts on how we tackle the growing problem include a sugary drinks tax and legislation to reduce the marketing of unhealthy food and drink to kids.

While today’s report looks at Australian adults, GLOBE co-director Professor Steven Allender says the centre’s data on overweight and obesity rates across Victorian children mirror these trends.

“Obesity rates continue to rise in both adults and children, and while we had hoped rates had levelled off, these data suggest more urgent action is needed across all levels of society to respond to this difficult problem,” Prof Allender says.

“Persons of lower socio-economic background generally experience higher rates of obesity. This inequality is why we need whole of population approaches that provide all Australians with the opportunity to make healthy behavioural choices.”

And the Public Health Association of Australia says the AIHW data provide an important New Year’s Resolution for governments.

“We know that where you live greatly impacts on your health,” says Michael Moore, CEO of PHAA.

“However, it is also important to acknowledge that such differences are more likely attributable to the socio-economic circumstances and the spread of wealth within these regions rather on the locations themselves. Across the world we know that better health has a strong association with greater wealth.”

PHAA called on governments to:

  1. develop and implement a National Food and Nutrition Plan to provide national guidance and consistency;
  2. stop the marketing of ‘junk food’ to children;
  3. implement a sugar tax and invest the money generated in to public health initiatives; and
  4. greater investment in targeted anti-tobacco campaigns.

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