Mapping Australia’s collective weight gain

OBESE NATION: It’s time to admit it – Australia is becoming an obese nation. Today we launch a series looking at how this has happened and, more importantly, what we can do to stop the obesity epidemic.

In Australia today, around two-thirds of adults and a quarter of children are overweight or obese. This is a dramatic change from the landscape just 30 years ago when we first collected national data on weight and height.

In 1980, around 60% of Australian adults had a healthy weight; today this has almost halved to around 35%. In 1980, just 10% of adults were obese. In 2012, this figure tips 25%. The infographic below shows just how quickly obesity is increasing in Australia. And why it’s not an exaggeration to call it an epidemic.


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The same trend is seen around the world, with around a third of adults and almost one in five children in the United States obese. In some island nations, the prevalence is higher still, with more than half of Samoan and Tongan women classified as obese.

In Australia, we see a higher prevalence of obesity in a number of marginalised populations, such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults, Australians living outside the major cities, and those living in more socioeconomically deprived areas.

With excess weight and obesity increasing your likelihood of developing many major chronic diseases, disability and early death, governments and communities around the world are working to halt, or at least slow, this trend.

Some encouraging reports have emerged recently from Australia, the United States and several European countries that show rates of obesity are stabilising in children. But the good news is limited to specific age groups and time periods (and the studies are yet to be replicated to confirm the results). Overall, rates of childhood overweight and obesity remain high.

There are two key objectives in dealing with Australia’s collective weight gain: we must both prevent the ongoing shift towards a heavier population, and increase the proportion of children and adults at a healthy weight. But before we can even contemplate either, we need to understand the drivers of these trends.

Why do we gain weight?

A person’s weight gain is generally caused by an imbalance between energy intake and energy expenditure. This appears simple, but the factors driving this imbalance at a population level are incredibly complex, making simple solutions elusive.

It’s commonly understood that the overweight and obesity we experience today is a normal response to an abnormal environment – often referred to as the obesogenic environment. The premise of this idea is that as humans we’re programmed to conserve energy, storing it up for a time when food is scarce. But most of us now live in an environment where food is plentiful.

On top of this, our need to expend energy in daily life has disappeared. Within our lifetimes we’ve seen the dominant move towards sedentary jobs and leisure-time pursuits, such as watching television, playing computer games and shopping online. We all also recognise the ease and affordability of foods high in energy.

The data supports our anecdotal understanding of these trends. While difficult to measure accurately, a comparison of Australian energy intake from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s shows an increase in daily energy intake of around 13% for children and 3% to 4% for adults. This latter increase, of around 350kJ a day (approximately half a can of soft drink, or a slice of bread), is equates to an eventual weight gain of around 3.5kg.


Our daily energy intake increased by 3% to 4% in the ten years to 1995. AAP


Similar trends have occurred in the United States, with a 2004 Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report indicating daily energy intake between 1970 and 1990 increased by around 7% in men and 22% in women.

Unfortunately, it’s difficult to measure exercise and activity levels over time. A recent report of US workers suggested that while almost half of jobs in the 1960s entailed at least moderate levels of activity, less that 20% do so now.

Trends in overall physical activity levels are more difficult to compare, as different studies generally evaluate different aspects of total physical activity (leisure time, occupational activity, incidental movement, among other measurements). But most Australian and US data suggest recreational activity levels have decreased slightly over past decades.

A recent review by Boyd Swinburn and his colleagues proposes a framework for understanding the combined forces of changes in our energy intake and activity levels. Prior to the 1960s, the dominant change was decreased levels of physical activity, but this had no observable effect on population weight status as food remained a limiting factor. Subsequent to the 1960s, the rapid changes in food availability, composition and marketing drove rapid increases in population weight, now against a backdrop of minimal activity.

The authors also highlight the strong correlation between national economic status and obesity: the move to affordable and accessible high-energy foods requires a certain level of economic wealth and activity. In this sense, the obesity epidemic can be seen as a detrimental outcome of our society’s over-consumption.


With sedentary jobs and leisure-time pursuits, we're not expending the energy we used to. Flickr/justingaynor


Clearly, our food and activity environments require the dominant focus in our efforts to tackle population weight gain. But there are a number of other contributors to weight gain that are also being evaluated for their potential role in achieving healthy population weight.

At an individual level, we know that the in utero environment influences the future child’s weight and chronic disease pathways, with both under- and over-nutrition linked to excess weight gain later in life. We also know that factors such as lack of sleep, low-quality sleep, and use of particular medications, life stages such as pregnancy, and specific genetic variations are also predictive of weight gain. Work to determine the importance of these factors at a population level is ongoing.

There are also newly identified candidates predictive of weight gain, including exposure to environmental toxicants such endocrine disruptors, Bisphenol A (BPA), phthlates and persistent organic pollutants. New studies have also suggested a link between some viral infections, such as human adenovirus, and obesity.

Reversing the trend

Successful population health campaigns to improve the levels of healthy weight, activity and nutrition in our population will need to focus on addressing the overarching drivers of the food and activity environments, while also taking into account these other factors that predict individual variation in weight gain.

The launch last year of the Australian National Preventive Health Agency’s Strategic Plan recognises the importance of this approach. It’s critical that we continue to work towards implementing a range of interventions appropriate for each stage of prevention and treatment, from childhood to adulthood.


We need a range of interventions to halt Australia's obesity epidemic. Ben Matthews


Currently, only a third of Australian adults have a healthy weight. If these trends continue, this could decrease to around one quarter over the next decade. There is a real risk that if we are not able to reverse these trends, very soon we will become conditioned to this new demographic, just as smoking was considered “normal” in the 1960s.

To prevent the burden of diabetes, heart disease, arthritis and cancer that will arise from these trends, we need strong and wide-reaching action to drive decreases in energy consumption, particularly within the Australia’s vulnerable population groups.

This is the first part of our series Obese Nation. To read the other instalments, follow the links below:

Part two: Explainer: overweight, obese, BMI – what does it all mean?

Part three: Explainer: how does excess weight cause disease?

Anna Peeters has received funding from National Health & Medical Research Council, Australian Research Council, Australian National Preventive Health Agency, VicHealth, Allergan Australia, The Global Corporate Challenge(c) . She is affiliated with Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute, Monash University and the Australian and New Zealand Obesity Society.

Dianna Magliano has been the recipient of two ARC linkage grants.

The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article.

Major food companies targeting low income communities more likely to lead unhealthy lifestyles

A new report has found that major food processors are targeting low and middle income areas with their unhealthy products, armed with the knowledge that consumption of unhealthy foods is higher in amongst those societal groups.

"There is significant penetration by multinational processed food manufacturers such as Nestle, Kraft, PepsiCo, and Danone into food environments in low-and-middle income countries, where consumption of unhealthy commodities is reaching—and in some cases exceeding—a level presently observed in high income countries", international researchers wrote in this week's PLoS Medicine.

Led by David Stuckler from the Univiversity of Cambridge, the authors from the UK, US and India analysed trends in unhealthy food and beverages, including sugary drinks and processed foods that are high in salt, fat, and sugar, alcohol, and tobacco between 1997 and 2010 and forecasted to 2016.

They discovered that not only is the rate of consumption of unhealthy foods and drinks growing faster in low to middle income communities, it is also growing faster than any high-income market in history.

In April a US study found conclusive evidence that where a child lives has a significant impact on their chances of being obese.

A neighbourhood’s good walkability, proximity to high quality parks, and access to healthy food can lower the chances of being obese by almost 60 per cent, the study found.

Then last month a new Australia-wide study found that people living in rural areas are more likely to consume alcohol and be overweight and obese.

The researchers of the latest study also found that higher intake of unhealthy foods correlates strongly with higher tobacco and alcohol sales.

They believe the global rise of transnational food and drink companies penetrating these areas more likely to have unhealthy lifestyles is a deliberate and dangerous move.

"Until health practitioners, researchers, and politicians are able to understand and identify feasible ways to address the social, economic, and political conditions that lead to the spread of unhealthy food, beverage, and tobacco commodities, progress in areas of prevention and control of non-communicable diseases will remain elusive."

Earlier this month a new study found 95 per cent of Australian children over two exceeded their recommended intake of saturated fat.

How does excess weight cause disease?

OBESE NATION: It’s time to admit it – Australia is becoming an obese nation. Today we launch a series looking at how this has happened and, more importantly, what we can do to stop the obesity epidemic.

We start by setting the scene with a map illustrating the extent of the problem and some tools to understand what this means: how we measure obesity and here, an explanation of how excess weight affects our body and causes disease.

When you consider the potential for a shortened lifespan and increased risk of a long list of diseases, it’s no wonder Australia’s obesity epidemic is causing so much concern. According to the National Health and Medical Research Council, obesity causes, worsens, or increases your risk of a raft of diseases, including:

  • diabetes,
  • obstructive sleep apnoea,
  • polycystic ovarian syndrome,
  • hypertension,
  • abnormal lipids,
  • heart attack and stroke,
  • some cancers,
  • fatty liver.

So how does obesity cause or contribute to these problems? The answer is complex, as there are multiple mechanisms. But the most important factor is that fat causes resistance to insulin, the hormone responsible for regulating metabolism.

When the body accumulates excess fat, it’s either stored in fat cells, where it’s relatively safe, or deposited in tissues, such as the liver and muscles.

In the liver, fat drives the increased production of glucose (sugar). In muscles, excess fat impairs the action of insulin to stimulate the body’s cells to use this glucose as a source of energy. The resulting insulin resistance forces the pancreas to overproduce insulin, in an effort to maintain normal blood glucose levels.

This is dramatically demonstrated in patients who have lipodystrophy, a genetic or autoimmune disorder in which there is a deficiency of fat cells. These people have nowhere to store fat, except in liver and muscle, and develop severe insulin resistance, diabetes and fatty liver.


Obesity affects the body’s ability to produce insulin. This is caused by stress on the insulin-producing pancreatic islet (β) cells and excess fat directly damaging these islet cells.

In people with a genetic predisposition to diabetes, the combination of insulin resistance, direct fat toxicity and genetic predisposition leads to the failure and death of islet cells. The result is a relative deficiency of insulin and the development of type 2 diabetes.

Obstructive sleep apnoea

Obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) occurs when there is an excess of fat around the neck which increases the collapsibility of the air passage to the lung, particularly during sleep. The resulting reduction of blood oxygen tells the sleeper’s brain to wake up and take a deep breath. This happens repeatedly during the night, preventing the individual from getting enough sleep.

Polycystic ovarian syndrome

The high insulin levels resulting from insulin resistance stimulate the ovary to make an excess of male-type hormones (normally produced in small amounts in women). This over-production of hormones can lead to acne, facial hair and the production of ovarian cysts. Polycystic ovarian syndrome is also a common cause of infertility.


Hypertension, or high blood pressure, means the heart has to work harder than usual to pump blood to the arteries.

Insulin has been shown to increase blood pressure by causing the kidney to retain salt and by activating the sympathetic (adrenaline) nervous system. Salt increases the amount of water that is retained (and therefore the volume of the blood), while the increased sympathetic activity narrows some blood vessels. The increased fluid and decreased vessel volume combine to increase blood pressure.

Abnormal lipids (high cholesterol)

The body produces cholesterol, a type of fat, to perform a number of metabolic processes such as creating hormones and bile.

The typical lipid abnormalities seen in people with obesity are elevated triglyceride (known as a “storage fat”) and a low HDL-cholesterol (or good cholesterol). While still under investigation, there is some evidence to suggest that elevated triglycerides are caused by fat-induced insulin resistance.

Low HDL-cholesterol is bad because its role is to take cholesterol from the blood vessels to the liver for removal. Low HDL means that this cleaning function doesn’t occur, leaving harmful cholesterol to remain in the blood vessels.

Increased risk of heart attack and stroke

As described above, obesity causes multiple cardiovascular risk factors such as impaired glucose tolerance, high blood pressure and abnormal lipids. These lead to excess fat deposition in the blood vessels, including those supplying the heart muscle and the brain.

When these fatty plaques rupture, a clot forms over them, blocking the vessel and resulting in a heart attack or a stroke, depending on which artery the clot forms in.

Increased incidence of cancer

The increased risk of cancer, particularly of the breast and bowel, with obesity has been documented in several large surveys. The mechanisms of this link are not yet fully understood and are currently the subject of much research.

Fatty liver

Excess fat accumulation in the liver can cause damage leading to liver-cell death, and in genetically susceptible people, can even cause cirrhosis (end-stage liver disease which requires a liver transplant).

The high prevalence of obesity means that fat-induced cirrhosis is overtaking excess alcohol or viral hepatitis as the commonest cause of cirrhosis.

Researchers are still investigating the mechanisms underpinning the links between obesity and various chronic diseases, but there’s no doubt excess weight poses a serious health risk. Urgent action is needed to halt Australia’s obesity epidemic.

This is part three of our series Obese Nation. To read the other instalments, follow the links below:

Part one: Mapping Australia’s collective weight gain

Part two: Explainer: overweight, obese, BMI – what does it all mean?

Joseph Proietto received funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council to investigate the link between obesity and abnormal lipids.

The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article.

95 per cent of children eating too much saturated fat: study

A new study has found 95 per cent of Australian children over two exceeded their recommended intake of saturated fat.

Children generally had adequate consumption of iron, calcium, zinc and vitamin C, but the number of those consuming more than the 10 per cent dietary intake of saturated fat, as recommended, was alarming.

As was the finding that one third of those surveyed were overweight or obese.

The University of Adelaide study, which was published this week in the Medical Journal of Australia, also found that children were lacking in many essential nutrients.

Almost 70 per cent of children did not have enough Omega-3 polyunsaturated fat, which is essential for brain and eye development, and over 80 per cent did not consume enough dietary fibre.

The poor nutritional intake was not subject to socioeconomic backgrounds, with nearly all children from rich and poor homes consuming too much saturated fat.

Recent studies have found that children’s neighbourhoods to contribute to obesity rates, with children from underprivileged backgrounds more likely to be overweight than their socioeconomically advantaged counterparts.

The latest study found that most of the saturated fat the preschoolers were consuming came from dairy products, and the authors of the study have urged parents to consider feeding low-fat dairy products to children over two.

The research stretched over two years, and involved door-knocking more than 13 000 homes in Adelaide.

Children were then measured, blood samples were taken, and the food they consumed over the three-day period weighed and recorded.

Image: Care2

Australians oppose TV junk food ads, warm to GM foods

More than 75% of Australians support a ban on junk food advertising in children’s television, and almost 20% support a total ban, according to a poll by the Australian National University on attitudes to food security.

The survey of 1200 people also found that nearly 50% of Australians feel genetically modified (GM) foods are safe to eat, and 13% say they struggle to put regular, nutritionally-balanced food on their tables.

The poll, Public Opinion on Food Security and Related Food Issues, gauged views on household food security, eating out habits, health and food safety and GM crops. The results describe a nation that is increasingly opting to eat out rather than cook at home, and one that is concerned about the safety of imported food products but divided about GM foods.

Stewart Lockie, Head of the School of Sociology in the College of Arts and Social Sciences at ANU and lead author of the study, said one of the surprising findings was that the increase in the number of people eating out was driven by time poverty and not socio-economic status. Eight percent of people said they eat takeaway food more than three times a week.

“Consumers of takeaway food were mostly young adults, male, with university educations, whereas we expected it to be lower socio-economic groups, if for no other reason than the takeaway industry really targets those communities with their store locations,” Professor Lockie said.

“The other surprising finding was that nearly half of the population feels that GM foods are safe to eat. If you asked this question 10 years ago, you’d have found widespread opposition. These days there’s a degree of familiarity, and there’s a sense that this stuff has been around for a while and there haven’t been disasters. There’s also a degree of ambivalence – this stuff is in the food system and we can’t do anything about it.”

David Tribe, a Senior Lecturer in Food Biotechnology and Microbiology, Agriculture and Food Systems at the University of Melbourne, agreed. “People have been given time to kick the tyres, check the paintwork, and they slowly accommodate something that was once perceived as very different. That’s one thing.

“The other thing is that Kevin Rudd was overseas in 2009 talking to prime ministers in countries that were under threat from a food crisis. He realised that food security was one of the greatest moral issues that we faced. So the message started to get through to people that it was important to think about food availability. The conversation changed dramatically.”

Genetically modified canola is now harvested in NSW and Victoria. AAP/Greenpeace

The ANU poll also uncovered concern among consumers about foods imported from Asia. “It’s a developing part of the world,” Professor Lockie said, “and the finding reflects a concern that some countries don’t have or don’t enforce adequate food safety regulations, and producers may be using excessive amounts of chemicals and not guarding against biological hazards.”

Timothy Gill, Principal Research Fellow and Scientific Programs Manager at the Boden Institute of Obesity, Nutrition and Exercise at the University of Sydney, said the push to restrict junk food advertising was not designed to deflect responsibility from parents for the way they raised their children, but to give them more support.

“You only have to experience the trauma of trying to shop with young children in the supermarket, and being pulled every which way by a child demanding a particular food product that has been marketed to appeal to them,” Associate Professor Gill said.

“Pester power is a mechanism that marketers have always deemed legitimate and appropriate. For young children, it’s about creating a sense of desire, fun and familiarity around certain products. For older children, it might be about appealing to the idea that they’ll be more popular or cool if they have some products.”

Professor Gill said it was “absolutely true” that parents should be accountable for the food their children consumed – “and the thing is, parents do want to take responsibility, and the reason why they wish to see less exposure of their children to this sort of advertising is that it goes directly against the influence they try to have and the things they teach their children. [Placing restrictions on ads] is not about taking away the responsibility of parents. Quite the opposite – it’s actually allowing them to take responsibility.”

A range of studies have shown that removing junk food advertising from children’s television has an effect on purchase requests and eating patterns.

Some of the key findings from the poll are:

  • 44% of people surveyed felt that GM foods are safe to eat. Among those who have read a lot about GM foods, 49% felt they were safe to eat.
  • However, 54% of respondents said that it was unlikely they would buy foods that are labelled as genetically modified.
  • 77% support a ban on junk food advertising during children’s television programmes and 18% oppose all junk food advertising.
  • 81% reported that food products in general are safe to eat, but nearly 66% did not feel confident with the safety of food products imported from Asia.
  • 8% eat takeaway more than three times each week, and men are 50% more likely than women to eat takeaway food.
  • Concerns about the economy are not reflected in people’s spending habits, with 37% eating out more than once a week.
  • 16% said they often or sometimes worried that their food would run out before they had enough money to buy more.
  • 13% said they could not afford to eat nutritionally-balanced meals.
  • 4% received emergency food assistance from a charity or other source.

The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article.

Junk food ads aimed at children fall 60 per cent

Children are seeing 60 per cent less junk food advertising during their television programs, following suggestions from the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) that the practise should be stopped, and calls from health groups to ban ads aimed at those under 12.

In 2009 the AFGC suggested that high sugar, fat and salt (HFSS) foods should not be advertised during television programs aimed at children.

Following the suggestion, however, HFSS advertisements aimed at children did not decrease, but rather in some instances actually increased.

The AFGC maintains this rise was the result of scheduling error, but health groups including the Cancer Council, Parents Jury, Australian Medical Association and the Australian Greens called on the government to step in and ban the practise.

The AFGC said the suggestion to ban cartoons in advertising HFSS foods to children was “unnecessary” last year.

The AFGC has today released figures to support its suggestions, which found the advertising of HFSS foods during children’s programs has fallen to 0.7 per cent between March and May 2011, down 60 per cent from the previous year.

The independent research by the Australian advertising information service Media Monitors was revealed in the RCMI Activity Report 2011, monitored free-to-air television – including digital channels – across Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney 24/7 for 92 days.

The figures prove that the Responsible Children’s Marketing Initiative (RCMI), which was started in 2009, is working, according to AFGC Acting Chief Executive Dr Geoffrey Annison.

Under the RCMI, 17 leading food manufacturers have committed to no advertise to children under 12, unless the ads are promoting healthy dietary choices and a healthy lifestyle.

 “The latest advertising figures confirm that adverts are not running during TV programs aimed at children,” Annison said.

Annison said the AFGC is pleased the food industry has made decisions to protect children with industry codes.

“Industry looks forward to continuing discussions with Government and public health advocates to ensure the RCMI is aligned with community expectations, remains practical for industry to implement and is successful in supporting better diets and health outcomes for all Australians.”

AFGC rejects tax on fast food outlets, study finds 20pc needed to make impact

The Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) has rejected a proposal from a suburban Melbourne council that called for major food outlets to be taxed up to 400 per cent more on commercial rates than other businesses.

The Darebin City Council’s proposal became public this week, inspiring comment and opinion from all sides.

Some argue it would be a step in the right direction of tackling rising obesity rates in Australia and, while others, including the AFGC say it would not achieve such an objective.

A report by local councillors said the introduction of the tax on fast food outlets including McDonald’s and KFC would “curb the increase” of people developing Type 2 diabetes.

But the AFGC’s acting chief executive, Geoffrey Annison said the move is “ill-conceived, impractical and would have no impact at all on obesity levels”.

 “Proposals like Darebin Council’s are simplistic and add nothing to either the debate or the outcome. The Henry Tax review said differential taxation was a poor regulatory option for influencing food choice.

“If you were to go down that line, you would have to include a range of food outlets including supermarkets, petrol stations, bakeries, coffee shops, fish and chip outlets, and Thai, Indian and Pizza restaurants as they all sell fast ready-to-eat takeaway foods and not to do so would be inequitable.”

The suggestion of a “fat tax” began last year, when Denmark developed a model to put a tax on foods high in saturated fats.

Many believe Australia needs a similar tax, to address rising obesity rates, and raise funds to prevent and cure obesity-related diseases including Type 2 diabetes.

Australian researchers examined three options for beating obesity and discovered they could prevent about 220 000 cases of type 2 diabetes nationwide by 2025, which was released this week.

The team from the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute identified a high-risk prevention strategy to begin tackling the obesity epidemic and rise in the number of type 2 diabetes.

They modelled future diabetes cases that could be averted using one of three strategies, the ‘junk food tax,’ counselling and gastric banding.

It found a nation-wide tax on unhealthy foods could lead to body mass index decreasing by around 0.5kg/m2.

A tax on high-sugar drinks has also been suggested, which a study in January found could save 26 000 US lives per year.

But new research out of the UK today has found that any tax on unhealthy foods or drinks would have to be more than 20 per cent for it to have any effect.

Researchers from the University of Oxford found that while more countries are introducing, or considering introducing taxes on unhealthy food and drinks, existing evidence suggests that taxes on a vast range of unhealthy foods would be more effective than focusing on just one.

In the UK, for example, the current “fat tax” regulations stipulate that only hot foods high in saturated fat are subject to the tax, leading to the largest baker, Gregg’s Bakery, to contest its application in court.

It says that because it does not make any effort to keep its sausage rolls warm after they are cooked, they should not be classified as ‘hot food,’ and therefore should not be taxed.

The Oxford study found that the most effective food group to be taxed would be sugary drinks.

“For example, a US study found a 35 per cent tax on sugar sweetened drinks in a canteen led to a 26 per cent decline in sales,” Oliver Mytton, leader of the study, said.

“Meanwhile, modelling studies predict a 20 per cent tax on sugary drinks in the US would reduce obesity levels by 3.5 per cent, and suggest that extending VAT (at 17.5 per cent) to unhealthy foods in the UK could cut up to 2,700 heart disease deaths a year.

“Opinion polls from the US also put support for tax on sugary drinks at between 37 per cent and 72 per cent, particularly when the health benefits of the tax are emphasised.”

The researchers also found that education surrounding energy intake, exercise and nutritional content is important for policy makers to consider when implementing changes.

220 000 cases of diabetes could be prevented by 2025

Australian researchers have examined three options for beating obesity and discovered they could prevent about 220 000 cases of type 2 diabetes nationwide by 2025.

The team from the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute identified a high-risk prevention strategy to begin tackling the obesity epidemic and rise in the number of type 2 diabetes.

Over 11 per cent, or just over two million people, will have diabetes in Australia by 2025, if current trends continue, the researchers found.

They modelled future diabetes cases that could be averted using one of three strategies, the ‘junk food tax,’ counselling and gastric banding.

The junk food tax – or fat tax – as well as a tax on sugary drinks have all been suggested in the last six months as possible ways to curb obesity rates.

A nation-wide tax on unhealthy foods could lead to body mass index decreasing by around 0.5kg/m2.

Preventing diabetes in those at high risk of developing diabetes would include behavioural modification programs, which would include six counselling sessions to monitor a reduction of fat and saturated fat in the diet, an increase in fibre, participation in at least four hours of moderate physical activity per week, culminating in weight loss of more than five per cent over 8-12 months.

This strategy was found to be the most effective, averting 220,000 of diabetes cases by 2025, which equates to a 10 per cent reduction, meaning 10 per cent of the population would be sufferers, down from 11.4 per cent.

The third strategy, for those who are already morbidly obese and therefore at the highest risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Gastric banding of those in the morbidly obese category who had newly diagnosed diabetes would see a 73 remission rate of type 2 diabetes, according to the study.

The surgically induced weight loss interventions prevented about 65 000 cases of diabetes in 2025 respectively. Combining the three interventions would avert around 253,000 cases.

On of the lead researchers, Dr Kathryn Backholer, said preventing the prevalence of diabetes would be more financially viable than continuing current treatments.

“Given the costly complications associated with diabetes, reducing the burden of diabetes by even 10 per cent is likely to have a profound influence on Australia’s health care system,” she said.

“The costs of managing diabetes are likely to increase over time as the population ages and people with diabetes are receiving better treatment and thus living longer.”

“We need to focus preventive efforts towards intensive lifestyle intervention programs to ensure the best success of reducing the future burden of diabetes.”

The findings will be presented today at the annual meeting of the European Association for the Study of Obesity in Lyon, France.

Anti-obesity program fails to reduce BMI’s of girls in low-income areas

An Australian-based program to tackle obesity has failed to reduce the Body Mass Index (BMI)’s of adolescent girls in disadvantaged areas.

Researchers from the University of Newcastle conducted a year-long study with a trial group, which aimed to prevent girls living in low-income communities from becoming overweight.

Funded by a grant from the Australian research Council and published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, the study included 357 girls aged 12 to 14 years.

Of those girls, 148 received a program that included increased school sport sessions, physical activity during lunchtime, nutrition workshops and text messaging for social support.

After 12 months on the program, BMI’s showed some positive changes, but were not statistically any different from those in the control group.

In March, a similar program was launched by the Murdoch Children’s Institute (MCRI), and tapped into the mobile and internet technology in an attempt to reach teenagers with the anti-obesity message.

The participants, aged between 12 and 17, will have their height, weight, blood pressure and waist circumference measured when they sign up, with follow-ups at three, six and 12 months.

They will undertake 12 one-hour online sessions which will include motivational messages, information on healthy lifestyles and also have access to a confidential chat room where they log their food diary and levels of activity.

Last month, a US study found conclusive evidence that the community where a child lives will impact their chances of becoming obese.

Lead author of the study, Dr David R. Lubans said this study resulted similar findings.  

 “The intervention effects on body composition were small and not statistically significant but have potential clinical importance,” he said.

“Girls in the intervention group spent 30 minutes per day less in screen-based activities than their control group peers.

“High levels of screen time are associated with a range of adverse health consequences, and our findings have important implications that may help address the increasing burden of pediatric and adolescent obesity observed in areas of social and economic disadvantage.”

40 per cent of elderly Australians at risk of malnourishment


More than 40 per cent of older Australians living in community housing are “malnourished or at risk of malnourishment,” according to a new study.

The Melbourne-based report, published in the Dietitions Association of Australia’s journal, Nutrition and Dietetics, was the result of a three month study.

Community nurses in Victoria assessed the malnutrition of 235 clients aged 65 and older and found one in three were identified as being at risk of malnutrition, while eight per cent were classified malnourished.

Only 41 per cent were in a healthy weight range, with 40 per cent overweight or obese and nineteen per cent underweight.

The average age of the participant was 82, with a range from 65 to 100.

Most of them were living on a pension and had an annual income of less that $30 000.

They lived at home, either alone or with a spouse, or with other family.

While the federal government recently released a 10-year plan to improve aged care throughout the country, Dietitians Association of Australia chief executive Claire Hewat said more attention needs to be paid to older people living within the community.

There have long been calls for the aged pension to be increased, with both qualitative and quantitative data showing that it is almost impossible for an older person to cover expenses and properly feed and clothe themselves on the current amount.

Previous Australian research has also found one in three hospital patients and almost 70 per cent of residents in aged care facilities are malnourished, Hewat pointed out.

Accredited Practising Dietition and leader of the study, Georgie Rist, said malnourishment is particularly problematic for the elderly, and those with regular contact with older people need to be aware of the signs and impacts.

 “Malnutrition is linked with poorer health, meaning increased GP visits, more admissions to hospital and longer hospital stays, and early admission to nursing homes,” she said.

“Community nurses are ideally placed to pick-up nutrition issues in older people as they are at the forefront of client care in the home.”

Image: Getty Images

Children’s neighbourhoods making them obese

A US study has found conclusive evidence that where a child lives has a significant impact on their chances of being obese.

A neighbourhood’s good walkability, proximity to high quality parks, and access to healthy food can lower the chances of being obese by almost 60 per cent, the study found.

The report, published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, Obesogenic Neighborhood Environments, Child and Parent Obesity: The Neighborhood Impact on Kids, was one of the first to look at how location impacts children’s nutrition and physical activity.

Researchers assessed Seattle and San Diego area neighborhoods’ nutrition and physical activity environments, which were defined based on supermarket availability and concentration of fast food restaurants.

The physical activity environments were defined by environmental factors including a neighbourhood’s walkability, and needed at least one park with more or better amenities for children.

Children living in neighbourhoods with low physical activity and nutrition environments had the highest rates of obesity at almost 16 per cent.

That figure is akin to the national average for obesity rates in the US, those high physical activity and nutrition neighbourhoods had half that obesity rate.

"People think of childhood obesity and immediately think about an individual’s physical activity and nutrition behaviors, but they do not necessarily equate obesity with where people live," Dr. Saelens, professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington and one of the leaders of the study, said.

"Everyone from parents to policymakers should pay more attention to zip codes because they could have a big impact on weight."

Fresh calls for a “fat tax” in Australia

Another Australian health group has joined the chorus of organisations demanding better initiatives to encourage healthy eating.

Public Health Australia believes a “fat tax,” similar to the one introduced in Denmark last year, would enable the food industry to reverse the current discrepancies in price between junk foods and healthier alternatives.

It believes the tax on foods with a high level of saturated fat would raise money which could be used to subsidise healthier foods.

One of the problems with the current pricing of foods is that junk food manufacturers are able to mass-produce unhealthy foods for an extremely low price – burgers at McDonald’s for example, cost as little as $2 – while sourcing quality ingredients and producing healthy foods costs the manufacturer more and therefore retails at a much higher price.

This is part of the reason the peak industry body rejected the original calls for the fat tax last year.

“There is already a 10 per cent tax on processed foods – the Goods and Services Tax (GST) which came into effect in 2000,” Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) chief executive Kate Carnell said.

“Australia has had a GST on processed foods – not on fresh foods or staples – for the past decade yet obesity levels have continued to rise.

“Food taxes are regressive as they penalise people who can least afford it – fat taxes were also dismissed by last year’s Henry Tax Review.

But Public Health Australia’s chief executive Michael Moore says a tax on sugar would be no different to the tax on tobacco.

"In the end, whilst the industry is making big profits out of junk food, it’s actually the taxpayer that’s paying for the results," he said.

"And you only have to look at the health costs, and the skyrocketing health costs, relating to obesity and other dietary related diseases to realise it’s just a transfer of money from the taxpayer to big industry."

The health impacts associated with obesity have earned it the title of ‘the new smoking’ amongst many experts, and as society becomes more informed about the detriments of being overweight, behaviours are beginning to change.

The tax has been introduced in parts of the UK already, and Greggs bakery will take the Chancellor George Osborne’s decision to impose the Value Added Tax (VAT) on its hot products to court in the next six weeks.

The bakery chain, which has 1500 stores across the UK, has lost £30 million value in its shared after being reclassified as hot food, but it argues that because it makes no effort to keep the foods warm, they should be exempted from the tax.

Australian doctors are also calling for warning labels on energy drinks, while a US study found a tax on sugary drinks could save 26 000 lives per year.

Health ministers and industry rejected the compulsory traffic light labelling on the front of packaged foods, suggested by Choice, last year, but have pledged to introduce some other form of simple, front-of pack nutritional guides within the next year.

UK bakery fighting “fat tax”

The “fat tax” imposed on foods high in saturated fat is being fought by the biggest bakery chain in Britain, who say taxing the sausage rolls and pasties it bakes in store is unfair.

Greggs bakery will take the Chancellor George Osborne’s decision to impose the Value Added Tax (VAT) on its hot products to court in the next six weeks.

The bakery chain, which has 1500 stores across the UK, has lost £30 million value in its shared after being reclassified as hot food.

Hot food is subject to the VAT, while cold food is not, and chief executive Ken McMeikan told Sky News the change is unreasonable.

“The consumer needs help in making their money go as far possible, not to see an increased tax on something they didn’t have to pay tax on previously,” he said.

Osborne released his Budget last week, which included changes to certain loopholes which allowed some foods to be exempt from the tax.

“At present soft drinks and sports drinks are charged VAT, sports nutrition drinks are not,” he said.

‘Hot takeaway food on high streets has been charged VAT for more than 20 years, but some new hot takeaway products in supermarkets are not.’

Greggs argument is that while it bakes its sausage rolls in-store, it does not make any effort to keep them warm once they’re removed, so they should not be classified as hot food.

McMeikan argues the changes were made without consultation with businesses, and he will meet with government representatives next week to discuss the issues.

‘We will be fighting this all the way,’ he said.

‘At a time when the consumer is under enormous pressure and at a torrid time for the high street, this felt like a tax measure that has been ill thought through and the timing could not be worse.’

It’s no wonder Greggs is planning to argue the tax on its ‘hot foods,’ as the company sells two million sausage rolls alone every week.

Greggs and the National Association of Master Bakers, who have collaborated to launch a legal bid against the decision, will have six weeks to take the matter to court.

When the “fat tax,” was first implemented in Denmark in October last year, Prime Minister David Cameron.announced that the UK was considering introducing a similar measure.

It has also been suggested as a possible way to improve health and nutrition in Australia, among other countries.

Some Australian doctors also want warning labels on energy drinks, while a US study found a tax on sugary drinks could save 26 000 lives per year.

Red meat consumption linked to early death

A long-running study of 120 000 people has found that consuming red meat daily can increase a person’s chance of dying by 20 per cent.

The Harvard University study has confirmed the long-held beliefs of many experts that consumption of red meat increased heard disease and cancer.

Up to nine per cent of all deaths in the study "could be prevented if all the participants consumed fewer than 0.5 servings per day of total red meat,” the report says.

Replacing red meat with fish and poultry may also lower the risk of dying early, the study, which appeared in the Archives of Internal Medicine, has found.

"This study provides clear evidence that regular consumption of red meat, especially processed meat, contributes substantially to premature death," senior author of the study, Frank Hu said.

With the 37 698 men observed for 22 years and the 83 644 women observed for 28 years, the research is one of the longest of its kind and provides a more accurate picture of the impact of red meat on long term health.

And it’s not just massive slabs of red meat which contribute to the increased risk of death, but rather daily intake of the recommended serving size.

Every four years the subjects would answer surveys about their eating habits, and it was found that those who ate a serving of red meat the size of a deck of cards each day experienced a 13 per cent increase in the risk of dying than those who did not.

If the red meat consumed was processed, such as in hot dogs or bacon, the risk of dying young jumped an extra seven per cent.

When red meat was substituted by nuts, the chance of death at a younger age saw a decrease of almost 20 per cent.

If it is replaced with poultry or whole grains, the risk of early death is reduced by 14 per cent, and seven per cent if fish was substituted.

The elements of concern in red meat include sodium, saturated fat, nitrates and some carcinogens which lead to heart disease and cancer, so consuming it every day poses grave concerns.

According to Dean Ornish, a physician and dietary expert at the University of California, San Francisco, a reduction in the amount of red meat consumed would significantly benefit not only people’s lives, but health systems also.

"More than 75 per cent of the $US2.6 trillion ($2.5 trillion) in annual US health care costs are from chronic disease," he said.

"Eating less red meat is likely to reduce morbidity from these illnesses, thereby reducing health care costs."

How much red meat do you eat?


Sugar claims “misleading”: Organic producer hits back at Channel 7

Organic food producer Bellamy’s Organic has responded to claims made about the sugar content of some of its products on Channel Seven last night, labelling them “inaccurate,” and “misleading.”

Last night’s Sunday Night program on the Seven Network included an interview with David Gillespie, where he claimed Bellamy’s Organic Apple Snacks contained too much sugar.

“Bellamy’s Organic Apple Snacks is100% pure unadulterated organic apple and nothing else,” it said in a statement today.

“It is free of pesticides, colours, flavours and any other additives.

“As stated on the packaging, the product does not contain added sugar of any type.

“We recognise this is a controversial topic because many people believe excess sugar intake is inextricably linked to the obesity epidemic; however, David Gillespie is mistaken to criticise the sugar content of the featured Bellamy’s product.

“He has reduced serious debate about a properly balanced diet down to oversimplified pseudo-science.

“Almost all dieticians are constantly exhorting Australians, particularly children, to eat two pieces of fruit per day.

The company has also denied claims it adds sugar to the products.

“Guest reporter Peter FitzSimons also mistakenly confused added sugar to a product containing 80% naturally occurring fruit sugar.

“Bellamy’s organic snacks and cereals, including our Bellamy’s Apple Snacks, contain no added sugars,” the statement said.

“The sugar contained within the Bellamy’s Organic Apple Snacks is natural sugar and a scientifically recommended source of carbohydrate in everyone’s diet.

“The drying process that is used to make Bellamy’s Organic Fruit Snacks gently removes moisture from the apple without destroying the flavour and nutrients.

“Medical experts and most of the scientific community are in consensus that naturally occurring fruit sugar, (such as the fructose that is found in apples), as part of a balanced diet, has a positive effect on health.”

Bellamy’s Organic Pty Ltd is said they were not contacted by any representatives from Channel Seven prior to the story going to air.

Are you ready?

 Ready meals are not what they used to be.

Gone are the days of soggy green mush masquerading as peas, meat processed to within an inch of its life and gravy and sauces made almost entirely of salt and MSG.

Nowadays, consumers are demanding fresher ingredients, healthier, portion-controlled meals and simplicity in preparation.

And the manufacturers are listening, because, truthfully they would be insane not to.

In one of the fastest- growing food industries, it is crucial for companies to be on top of the game, or risk losing out to competitors.

Kit Rahman, McCain Foods marketing manager told Food Magazine the range offered by the company, including Healthy Choice, is continually changing and improving quality, in line with consumer demands.

“Food expertise, food knowledge and food experimentation are at unprecedented levels in Australia through an explosion of food-related media,” he said.

“Restaurants have increased their quality, everyday people are a bit more concerned with what they put into their mouths and a renewed interest in cooking has led to a greater range of cuisines being explored.”

Tony Rollandson from Gippsland Food Company, which produces the Lean Cuisine range, told Food Magazine that as people get busier, sales of ready meals are seeing a spike in popularity.

“Consumers who are time short are buying into market as well,” he said.

“Our traditional target market is extending, there are more consumers than ever heading to the supermarket to pick up something quick and easy.

“If you look at it from Lean Cuisine’s perspective, the amount of time and effort we put behind improving the cuisine type, type of meals we offer and dramatically improving the of quality of meals has been huge because the market is demanding that.

“As they’re looking for more exciting meals and healthier meals we had to move with the times.”

Rahman agreed, explaining Healthy Choice’s goal is to make healthy and tasty meals in the ready meal category more exciting for consumers, who are not only busy but also living alone more than ever before.

[Being busy] is definitely a factor – we also have changing population demographics with greater numbers of single-person households, and cooking for 1 person isn’t much fun,” he told Food Magazine.

“The typical consumer of Healthy Choice would be a single female, 30-40 yrs old, interested in maintaining her health and weight-conscious but not to the point of extreme dieting or calorie-counting.

“She works, leads a full life outside of work and packs a lot into her schedule.”

Rollandson is less inclined to speculate about the type of consumer Healthy Choice attracts, explaining that the demographic is constantly shifting as obesity and associated disease remain front page news.

“It’s quite varied,” he explained to Food Magazine.

“A considerable number are baby boomers who’ve hot dispensable income and are looking for a healthy alternative, others are middle aged men and women who are simply time poor with work and other things.

“There are all types of people looking for a healthier alternative these days, particularly those in single households.”

Some shoppers Food Magazine spoke to said the price of a single meal often puts them off buying Ready Meals, but Rollandson explained that using fresher ingredients and healthier alternatives cannot be done as cheaply as using low-quality products.

“If looking at the price points, they from $4.50 to $9, so if you compare that to other food or drinks they’re relatively inexpensive for what you’re getting,” he said.

“Our steamed range for Lean Cuisine is growing dramatically at the moment, as are our premium options, which offer a split tray with protein separated from the carbohydrates.”

Over at Healthy Choice, Rahman notes a different growth pattern in cuisine types, with people choosing heartier, comfort-type foods.

“The most popular meals in the McCain range are the traditional “classic” meals including Chicken Parmagiana, Lasagne, and Roast Chicken,” he told Food Magazine.




More sugar in fruit drinks that fizzy beverages

Beverages labelled as ‘fruit drinks’ are confusing consumers into thinking they’re healthy, when in reality many are worse than fizzy drinks.

A report earlier this year found that a tax on sugary drinks could save 26 000 US lives per year, and Australian experts want mandatory warning labels on energy drinks, after a spike in heart tremors, chest pain and sleep deprivation as a result of the beverages was observed.

This info graphic paints a scary picture of what sugary drinks are doing to people’s health, and it’s not just soft drinks in the firing line, with research finding fruit juices are just as bad.



Communicating their way: obesity message delivered to teens via web

An Australian research organisation is tapping into mobile and internet technology, in an attempt to reach teenagers with the anti-obesity message.

The Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRA) is in the process of recruiting participants from across Melbourne.

The participants, aged between 12 and 17, will have their height, weight, blood pressure and waist circumference measured when they sign up, with follow-ups at three, six and 12 months.

They will undertake 12 one-hour online sessions which will include motivational messages, information on healthy lifestyles.

The teens will also have access to a confidential chat room where they log their food diary and levels of activity.

Parents will receive regular newsletters on how to support their teenager through the process.
The program will use the controversial traffic light labelling system, which was welcomed by some health groups, slammed by others, and eventually decided against by the government in favour of another mandatory front-of-pack notional labelling, which will be rolled out within a year.

The MCRI’s Associate Professor, Joanne Williams believes the use of the traffic light system will be effective for the teenagers.
“We try to get them to increase their serves of green foods and decrease their intake of red foods,” she said.

“The programs will teach them ways to manage nutrition, exercise, weight and to improve body image.”