Like most countries in the Western World, Australia is undergoing a huge change in the way its population looks and making healthy eating choices, with more and more people becoming either overweight or obese.
In 2007, Australia was ranked third in the developed world for the percentage of the population who were overweight, behind the USA and New Zealand. Since the previous study, the numbers had doubled and this trend for people to get larger seems to be growing pace rather than slowing down.
It’s not all bad news though, as although the number of adults who are becoming overweight or obese is rising, the percentage of children who have weight problems is remaining mostly static.
What classes as overweight or obese?
Everyone is a different shape and size, so the most accepted method of calculating obesity is using the body mass index (BMI). BMI is calculated by finding the weight of the person in kilos, then dividing it by their height in metres squared. This is not a simple calculation for most people and there are many tables and websites which will help with the calculation. A two digit number will be the result. Normal weight range is defined as a BMI of between 20 and 24.9. Overweight is a BMI from 25 to 30, and anything over 30 is obese.
What leads people to become obese?
It is too simplistic to say that someone puts on weight because they exercise too little and eat too much. This may be true in some cases, but there are many stages in our lives where the battle with weight gain can be difficult. Some of these periods include:
- Pregnancy. Women naturally gain weight during a pregnancy and many find it extremely difficult to lose excess weight after their baby is born, given that they have little free time to cook healthy meals or go out to the gym regularly – see our plans here on how to lose the baby weight.
- Depression. Many people who suffer from depression find that food makes them feel better so eat more, then become more depressed because of weight gain. This vicious circle is difficult to break free from.
- Holidays. Nobody wants to spend their precious holiday time worrying about what they are eating and it is common for people to put on weight while away from home. Activity levels while on holiday are also lower.
- Lifestyle. People with a busy lifestyle who work long hours and are always grabbing a quick snack rather than preparing a proper meal may find that over time the kilos creep on. Late nights can also contribute to gaining weight as the body’s natural rhythms of eating and sleeping are disturbed.
- Stress. It’s natural to reach for a snack if you are feeling stressed, and if the snack is a chocolate bar rather than an apple, the increased calorie intake can easily lead to weight gain.
Implications of obesity
People who are obese are far more likely to develop certain health conditions than people who weigh less. Some of these conditions can be serious, or even life-threatening. People who are 40% overweight are twice as likely to die prematurely that someone who is not overweight. Losing even a little weight can dramatically decrease the probability of developing some of these conditions, so small improvements in diet and activity levels can go a long way to improving overall health prospects. Some of the conditions closely associated with obesity are:
- Heart Disease and Stroke. These two conditions are what kill most people in the Western world. Blood pressure in overweight people tends to be higher, increasing the risk of stroke. High levels of cholesterol (fat) in the blood can lead to blocked arteries, causing heart attacks.
- Type 2 Diabetes. This type of diabetes is also known as adult-onset diabetes. It is not controlled by insulin, but by diet. Complications of diabetes can be heart disease, kidney problems, loss of eyesight and stroke.
- Cancer. There are many different types of cancers which have higher incidences in people who are overweight. These include breast cancer, cervical cancer, prostate cancer and colon cancer. It is not known whether it is the weight itself or the excess fat in the body which contributes to the cancer risk.