Excess weight declared a leading cause of disease burden in Australia  

Leading public health groups call for National Obesity Prevention Strategy to be strengthened

Wednesday 24 November, 2021

The Obesity Policy Coalition (OPC) is calling for the National Obesity Prevention Strategy (NOPS) to reflect new data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), which shows overweight and obesity is soon set to overtake tobacco smoking as the leading burden of disease. 

The new report based on 2018 data shows that 8.4% of the total disease burden in Australia is due to excess weight and that it continues to rise, closing in on tobacco, at 8.6%. Poor diet is also high on the list, contributing 5.4% of the total disease burden for the nation.

Large inequalities were also found across socioeconomic groups and by area of remoteness. The total burden of those in remote and very remote areas was 1.4 times that of major cities, and for those in the lowest socioeconomic group it was 1.6 times that of the highest socioeconomic group. 

New data from the World Obesity Federation also highlights the economic impact now, and into the future for Australia, showing costs of obesity annually at USD$23.7billion, or 1.7% of GDP, which is expected to reach USD$103billion by 2060 if no action is taken. 

Jane Martin, Executive Manager of the Obesity Policy Coalition says that while these statistics are alarming, the decline of the disease burden from tobacco over the years provides a promising example of the positive changes we could see if we took a similar public health approach in relation to obesity. 

“We all want to live and raise our families in an environment that supports them to be healthy, active and well. But we have an urgent public health issue with two thirds of adults and one in four children above a healthy weight. More than nine out of ten Australian adults and children are not eating a healthy diet. Most recently we have seen people with overweight and obesity at risk of poorer outcomes from Covid-19.  

“However, these risk factors are preventable and the impact on Australians and their health can be stemmed. We need to apply the same approach that has been so successful in tobacco control to create healthy communities by implementing strong evidence-based policies, including introducing a health levy on sugary drinks, protecting children from unhealthy food marketing and reducing the availability of unhealthy food,” Ms Martin said.  

The increasing health and economic impacts of being above a healthy weight on the lives of Australians highlights that a comprehensive plan to address and improve the population’s health is now more urgent than ever. The OPC is urging governments across Australia to prioritise strengthening the National Obesity Prevention Strategy by including an implementation plan setting out detailed targets, governance, accountability, funding, monitoring and evaluation protocols. 

“The evidence is clear on what works to prevent and reduce obesity. Effective implementation of a long-term funded plan that will set the foundations for life-long health and wellbeing for Australians is now more urgent than ever. With further strengthening, the National Obesity Prevention Strategy can become just that,” Ms. Martin said.