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Two-thirds of Australians weigh too much

30th October 2012

A major new study has found that two-thirds of Australian adults are overweight or obese, although there has been no increase in childhood obesity in recent years.

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While Australians appear to be drinking and smoking less, people are apparently still struggling with weight gain.

New figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) show that overweight or obese adults now make up 63.4% of the country's population, an increase of two percentage points compared figures from four years ago.

Announcing the results of the 2011-12 Australian Health Survey of 33,500 people, ABS statistician Paul Jelfs said that only 56.3% were obese or overweight in 1995.

While one in four children in Australia is currently classed as overweight, their number has not risen.

The problem seems to be harder for men than for women, however, with 70.3% of males considered overweight or obese, and just 56.2% of women losing what Jelfs described as the "battle of the bulge".

The survey has been billed as the biggest health check of Australians ever undertaken.

It used the body mass index (BMI) of participants to calculate overweight and obesity, which is a measurement derived from a person's weight in kilograms divided by their height in metres squared.

According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Australia is now the world's fifth-fattest developed nation, coming in after the United States, Mexico, New Zealand and Chile,

Jelfs said the survey did have some encouraging news, however.

The number of people smoking daily fell by 3% over the past four years to 16.3% of Australia's population of nearly 23 million.

That compares with 18.9% in the 2007-8 survey and 22.4% in 2001.

Earlier this year, the Australian government mandated plain packaging for tobacco products in a bid to discourage smoking.

The move came after the government won a High Court battle with major tobacco companies.

Health officials have also launched a series of shock advertising campaigns to warn people of the dangers of binge-drinking.

There are also potential moves in the pipeline to introduce minimum pricing for alcoholic drinks.

Australians still clearly like to drink, however, with 19.5% declaring that they consumed more than two drinks a day in the survey.

However, that number fell by 1.4 percentage points compared with four years ago.

Meanwhile, childhood obesity rates have leveled off, possibly the result of a campaign to banish unhealthy snack foods like pies and sausage rolls from schools cafeterias.

Currently, 24.9% of Australian children aged 5-17 are obese or overweight, the same level as found in the 2007-08 National Health Survey.

This year's survey also measured blood pressure and waist circumference among participants for the first time, with worrying results.

The average waist circumference in both men and women was above the healthy measurement of 94 cm and 80 cm respectively, while more than 20% of Australians were found to have high blood pressure.

Statistician David Zago described the incidence of hypertension as alarming, and much higher than expected.

Experts said they were also concerned that 65.5% of men aged 25-34 were overweight or obese, possibly due to a culture of gorging on super-sized meals among young men.


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