OPC calls for urgent action as obesity burden increases

13 Jun 2019

National obesity strategy needed to combat rising rates of obesity and poor diet

New data shows overweight and obesity is now a leading contributor to Australia’s burden of disease, second only to smoking.

The statistics published by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW)[1] today show that 8.4% of total disease burden in Australia is due to excess weight and that it continues to rise.

The Obesity Policy Coalition calls for action from all levels of government to address poor diet and obesity and for appropriate coordination through the national obesity prevention strategy, currently being developed by the CoAG Health Council.

Jane Martin, Executive Manager of the Obesity Policy Coalition, said the statistics demonstrate the impact and scale of the crisis that is gripping Australia.

“With 67% of adults and 24% of children overweight or obese, weight-related health issues are one of the biggest public health challenges facing this country. But this is not a problem without a solution.”

“The evidence is clear on what works to prevent and reduce obesity. We need a long-term funded national obesity prevention strategy that includes policies and regulation to protect children from junk food marketing, as well as public education campaigns.”

Ms Martin said that tax and pricing measures were a crucial part of any national obesity strategy, including consideration of a 20 per cent health levy on sugary drinks.

“Sugary drinks are the largest contributor of added sugar in Australians’ diets. We know that price can deter people from these cheap, unhealthy drinks.”

“A health levy would also help recover some of the significant costs associated with obesity and the increasing burden this puts on our public health care system, Ms Martin said.  

The statistics also showed that dietary risks were responsible for 7.3% of burden of disease in Australia in 2015.

“Unhealthy diets are having a huge impact on Australians’ health with 35 per cent of the energy adults consume every day coming from highly processed foods.”

“We need to ensure consumers have the information they need to make the healthy choice, including making the health star rating system mandatory and added sugar labelling on packaged foods.”

Today’s statistics follow the announcement yesterday by Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt MP to invest in a national prevention strategy.

Ms Martin said with obesity and overweight contributing significantly to Australia’s disease burden, obesity prevention should be a key component of any prevention strategy.

“Today’s data illustrate the breadth of the problem. It is likely to continue to worsen unless we take action now. Given the major health and financial costs on the nation, addressing obesity should be an important focus for the Government.”

[1] Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. 2017. Impact of overweight and obesity as a risk factor for chronic conditions.https://pp.aihw.gov.au/reports/burden-of-disease/interactive-data-risk-factor-burden/contents/overweight-and-obesity