The increase in overweight and obesity rates in recent decades is a major public health concern in many countries including Australia. Before 1980, obesity rates were generally well below 10%, but have doubled or tripled in many countries since then. In no less than 13 countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), 50% or more of the adult population is now classified as being either overweight or obese, with Australia's obesity rate the fifth highest, behind only the United States, Mexico, New Zealand and the United Kingdom(footnote 1) . Sedentary lifestyles which have come about due to increasing affluence and the modernisation of society, and changes to diets containing more energy-dense foods are believed to be the main causes in the rise in overweight and obesity rates.
While gains in weight had been largely beneficial to population health and longevity over the past century, many people have crossed the line where further weight gain becomes detrimental. Life expectancy may decrease due to the increasing number of overweight and obese people who experience health problems, such as cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes.
Overweight and obesity are prominent health risks that can affect a person's ability to work or participate in family and community activities and have serious implications for the health sector in terms of cost and burden on services. In 2008, it was estimated that the overall cost of obesity to Australian society and governments was $58.2 billion(footnote 2) , which included:
- a burden of disease cost of $49.9 billion; that is, the cost of disability, loss of well-being and premature death resulting from obesity and its impacts; and
- direct financial costs of $8.3 billion, including productivity costs due to short and long-term employment impacts ($3.6 billion), health system costs ($2 billion) and carer costs ($1.9 billion).
1 The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Health at a glance 2009 - OCED indicators. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2009. Available from http://www.oecd.org/document/11/0,3343,en_2649_33929_16502667_1_1_1_37407,00.html
2 Access Economics. The growing cost of obesity in 2008: three years on. Canberra: Diabetes Australia, 2008. Available from: http://www.accesseconomics.com.au/publicationsreports/showreport.php?id=172 <back