The facts on overweight & obesity in Australia

We all want to be healthy, and we know being overweight or obese is a risk for many health problems in the long run. Managing your weight comes down to an overall  healthy lifestyle, which is focused on eating nutritious foods and keeping physically active in a way that is sustainable, and enjoyable.

Unfortunately, more and more Australians are becoming overweight or obese. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare tells us that during 2011-12:

  • Almost two in three Australians are overweight or obese
  • 10 percent more adults are overweight or obese than in 1995
  • Overweight and obesity is the second highest contributer to burden of disease (behind smoking).
Associated health problems

Accredited Practising Dietitians (APDs) have many tools to look at your risk of being overweight:

Overweight and obesity are commonly defined in adults by BMI, which compares height and weight.

The following explains the BMI groupings:

  • <18.5 kg/m 2 – underweight
  • 18.5 – 24.9 kg/m 2 – healthy
  • 25.0 – 29.9 kg/m 2 – overweight
  • 30.0 kg/m 2 and above – obese

BMI is a tool that health professionals may use to assess health.  As it is a rough guide, it won’t be useful for all people, so shouldn’t be solely relied on.

Research shows that where body fat sits on the body is linked with health risk

  • Apple shape: Describes abdominal obesity; or extra fat around the stomach. This is a high-risk for health problems.
  • Pear shape: Describes extra fat arond the hips, thighs and bottom. This is less risky for health problems.

Measuring your waist is another tool health professionals use to assess your risk of problems linked with overweigth and obesity. If your waist is above 80cm for females, or 94cm for males you are at an increased risk of chronic disease. The risk is greatly increased if your waist circumference is above 88cm for females or 102cm for males.

These waist measurements relate to adult Caucasian men, and Caucasian and Asian women.  More research is needed before we know healthy waist measurements for all other cultural groups. Talk to your Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD) to find out more.

The waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) can spot abdominal obesity. WHR is found by dividing the waist measurement by the hip measurement.

A WHR greater than:

  • 0.9 for men
  • 0.8 for women

indicates an increased health risk.

What makes us overweight and obese?
  • Eating more food than is needed to meet energy needs
  • Consuming foods and drinks that are higher in energy (kilojoules) – in particular ‘extra foods’ like pies, chips, doughnuts, pastries and drinks like sugar-sweetened beverages and alcohol
  • Weight loss and regain (yo-yo dieting)
  • Following restrictive weight loss diets
  • Being less physically active
  • Genetics.
Losing weight and staying healthy

Following restrictive diets may lead to quick weight loss, but it’s usually regained and people often end up heavier than they were before starting the diet (for further information, see Fad Diets).

In order to lose weight and keep it off, lifestyle changes must be

  • Realistic
  • Achievable
  • Maintained for the long-term.

The following ideas may help those wanting to lose weight:

  1. Try to eat mainly whole foods, including fruit and veggies, whole grain breads and cereals, dairy foods, lean meat and poultry, fish and meat alternatives such as eggs, legumes, nuts and seeds.
  2. Remember to drink plenty of water each day. And, limit foods containing saturated fat, added sugars and added salt. Replace unhealthy fats with small amounts of healthy fats such as olive oil, nuts and seeds, and avocado.
  3. Keep physically active
  4. Tune in to physical cues. Take notice of the taste, smell, texture of your food when eating. When you pay closer attention and eat mindfully, you allow yourself the chance to notice when you feel full, so you may stop once you’re comfortably full.
An Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD) can provide professional dietary advice on weight management, which is tailored to individual needs.