Australia’s ballooning waistlines warrant a national strategy but it is an area where the Rudd government has been slow to act, a leading health professional says.
According to a University of Sydney study, the nation’s battle of the bulge is costing the country $56 billion a year.
The study, published in the Medical Journal of Australia on Monday, showed how the total cost to the nation of overweight and obesity was dramatically higher than earlier forecasts.
Direct health care and other related costs totalled $21 billion a year while government subsidies cost another $35.6 billion, according to the research by the university’s Professor of Metabolic Health Stephen Colagiuri.
Professor Ian Olver said a problem of this scope warranted a national strategy but it was an area where the Rudd government had been slow to act.
“Back in June 2009, the government’s own National Preventative Health Taskforce recommended a comprehensive multi-sector strategy to tackle our burgeoning obesity rates that is strongly supported by public health groups,” he said on Monday.
“Yet eight months later we have yet to see the government act on this report and legislation to establish a prevention agency languishes in the Senate.
“This study highlights the direct costs to both individuals and the government of the escalating rates of overweight and obesity in our society,” Prof Olver said.
“An individual who is obese faces double the direct costs and costs the government 67 per cent more in subsidies compared to a person of normal weight.
“This is because being overweight or obese substantially increases your risk of developing chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, kidney disease and some cancers.”
Prof Olver said the issue would be on the agenda at the next Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting and he called for “all parties to put the health of Australians first and get on with the job of implementing the preventive health strategy recommended by the taskforce”.
“With an extra 10,000 Australians becoming overweight or obese each month we simply can’t afford to delay comprehensive action any further,” he said.
Prof Olver is chief executive of Cancer Council Australia, but he spoke as chair of the Australian Chronic Disease Prevention Alliance, which also includes the National Heart Foundation, Kidney Health Australia, Diabetes Australia and the Stroke Foundation.
The study also took in body weight data from 6140 typically middle-aged people, just over half of whom were women.
Less than a quarter (24.7 per cent) of these people were deemed to be of normal healthy weight, with 32.4 per cent considered overweight and 42.9 per cent rated as obese.
Source: Sydney Morning Herald, 1 March 2010, http://news.smh.com.au/breaking-news-national/aussie-obesity-costs-billions-study-20100301-pcwd.html