4842.0.55.001 - Overweight and Obesity in Adults in Australia: A Snapshot, 2007–08  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 27/05/2011  First Issue
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Contents >> Health status >> Long-term health conditions

Long-term health conditions

A number of long-term health conditions (one which lasted or was expected to last for six months or more) were more prevalent in obese adults than adults in other weight ranges. Obese people were more likely to have some type of long-term health condition (89%) than those who were overweight (87%) and normal weight (86%).

Heart, stroke and vascular disease

Heart, stroke and vascular disease comprise a subgroup of diseases of the circulatory system. Excessive weight poses a major risk for diseases of the circulatory system, with the risk increasing the longer a person remains overweight or obese. Other risk factors which impact on heart disease include tobacco smoking, insufficient physical activity and poor nutrition, which, when combined with excess weight, increase the risks further.

A greater proportion of obese men had a heart, stroke or vascular disease (9%) compared with those in the underweight/normal weight (6%) and overweight (7%) ranges. For women, those who were underweight had the lowest rate of heart, stroke or vascular disease (2%), with the proportion rising consistently with each increasing weight range to 9% for obese women.


Hypertension or high blood pressure is a major risk factor for coronary heart disease, stroke, heart failure and chronic kidney disease. Along with obesity, other major causes of hypertension include diets which are high in salt, excessive alcohol consumption and insufficient physical activity.

For both men and women, those who were obese had a greater likelihood of having hypertension than people in all other weight ranges. Obese people were around 1.5 times more likely to have hypertension than overweight people and around two times more likely than normal weight people (Graph 6.2).

6.2 Measured Body Mass Index(a)(b), by Hypertension

High blood cholesterol

High blood cholesterol is also a major risk factor for coronary heart disease and stroke by causing blood vessels that supply the heart and other parts of the body to become clogged. For most people, saturated fat in their diet is the main reason for elevated blood cholesterol levels. Physical activity and a healthy diet play an important role in maintaining a healthy blood cholesterol level.

One in ten men who were obese had high blood cholesterol levels (10%), almost double that of normal weight men with high blood cholesterol levels (6%). Similarly, around twice as many obese women had high blood cholesterol levels (9%) compared with women of normal weight (4%).


Osteoarthritis is a degenerative condition caused mainly by accumulated wear of the cartilage that cushions the ends of bones where they meet to form a joint. As the cartilage degenerates, the normal functioning of the joint becomes disrupted which causes pain, stiffness and limited activity. The condition mainly affects the hands, spine and weight-bearing joints such as the hips, knees and ankles. Excess body weight is one of the risk factors for osteoarthritis.

The prevalence of osteoarthritis in 2007-08 was significantly higher for obese men and women (10% and 14% respectively) compared with underweight/normal weight (6% and 11%) and overweight (8% and 12%) men and women.

Type 2 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes or non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus is a chronic condition in which the body may not produce enough or cannot effectively use insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar. People with Type 2 diabetes have a greater risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, limb amputation, kidney failure and blindness. Strategies for managing Type 2 diabetes include changing diet, exercising more regularly, taking glucose-lowering drugs, insulin injections or a combination of these.

Obese men were more than twice as likely to have Type 2 diabetes (9%) than normal weight and overweight men (both 4%). Correspondingly, obese women were twice as likely to have Type 2 diabetes (6%) than overweight women (3%) and three times more likely as underweight/normal weight women to have Type 2 diabetes (2%).

Psychological distress

In the 2007-08 NHS, adults aged 18 years and over were asked a series of questions about negative emotional states, known as the Kessler 10 scale (K10) questionnaire, to measure psychological distress experienced in the four weeks prior to the survey. Based on their responses they were then grouped into four categories ranging from low, moderate, high and very high levels of psychological distress. A very high level of psychological distress may indicate a need for professional help.

After adjusting for age, a higher proportion of obese people had very high distress levels compared with people in any other weight range (Graph 6.3).

6.3 Measured Body Mass Index(a)(b), by Very high distress levels(c)

Obese women were more likely to have very high or high distress levels (17%) than normal weight and overweight women (13% and 12% respectively). Obese women were also more likely to have very high or high distress levels than obese men (9%).

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