Doctor Andrew Binns.
Doctor Andrew Binns. The Northern Star

We're the thinnest of a very fat lot

GOONELLABAH doctor Andrew Binns fears the obesity epidemic will get worse now Australia has been declared the world's fattest nation.

Statistics released last week show 26 per cent of the population is obese.

The most recent statistics published by the NSW Department of Health say that the NSW North Coast has one of the lowest percentages of obese residents.

North Coast Area Health acting director Jillian Adams said the area was better off than other places in NSW, with a study from 2007 showing that only 15.3 per cent of people in the area were obese.

"We're doing better than most areas in the State," Ms Adams said.

However, Dr Binns said there was also variation within the region.

"We are finding that obesity rates are higher in areas of low socio-economic status," he said.

"If you look at the Northern Rivers area you will see there is a difference in obesity rates between areas like Byron Bay and areas inland.

"It follows trends in the rest of the country, with obesity rates higher in the western suburbs of Sydney than on Sydney's North Shore."

Dr Binns said the education level of people impacted on their food choices at the supermarket.

"It's also a question of affordability," he said.

"People who don't have a lot of money to afford healthy food choices will often buy calorie-dense foods because they are cheaper."

Dr Binns said helping an obese person lose weight not only included their food choices, but also their physical activities.

A new Federal Government report, entitled Australia's Future Fat Bomb, shows middle-aged people are leading the way, with seven-in-10 men and six-in-10 women aged 45 to 64 now registering a body mass index of 25 or more.

An estimated 122,500 men and women will die, many prematurely, from heart problems related to excess weight in the next 20 years.

These admissions are expected to cost Australia at least an extra $3 billion in health expenditure and $6 billion overall.
 
"It's going to be a huge cost on the Government with all the health issues," said Dr Rosanne Coutts, a sports and exercise physician at Southern Cross University.

Already the Government has promised to tackle the issue over the next 12 months, and a range of measures including gym membership rebates are being discussed.

Dr Coutts said the Northern Rivers would catch up soon.

Research over the past 10 years shows an increase in overweight people, with a rise to 52.5 per cent predicted for 2008.

Dr Coutts said the fact that Australians had overtaken even Americans as the world's fattest should be cause for concern.

"We eat food proportions way bigger than what we need," she said.

"Food has also become a big part of social gatherings. It's a celebration of food now as well."

While the report focuses on adults, children are also at risk.

"Parents who are obese are more likely to have obese children. It's genetic predisposition," she said.

"The Government is doing a good job in educating children about what to eat and by getting them active."

To combat obesity, Dr Coutts recommended overweight people look at changing their lifestyle, rather than adopt a short-term solution like a diet.

"The human body is designed to run, jump, play and be active," she said.

"Diets don't tend to last a long time, but changes in lifestyle do.

"The more diets people do in their lives, the less they start to work."

Dr Coutts hoped the report would shock people into becoming more aware of the issue.

"I think this will jump-start it, but there will still be people who learn about it when they go to the doctors and they tell them about their high cholesterol in the 40s.
 
"They should have done it 10 years earlier," she said.

"I recommend that people should go to their GP and get a full physical, including cholesterol intake, blood pressure and BMI.

"People shouldn't be frightened off."


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