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How can we overcome Australia’s obesity epidemic?

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Rates of obesity have reached epidemic levels in Australia and other developed nations around the world. Obesity is a serious medical condition as it contributes to a variety of diseases including type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, arthritis and obstructive sleep apnoea. Treatment of obesity should therefore be considered seriously. Management may include long-term public health measures to alter our obesity promoting environment, as well as individual treatment options such as lifestyle changes, behaviour therapy, drug therapies and surgical techniques.

Obesity is broadly defined as an excess of body fat or more precisely as a body mass index (BMI) greater than 30. Body mass index is a measure of your weight in kilograms divided by your height (in metres) squared. A higher BMI is associated with increasing health problems. Obesity should be considered as a chronic disease given its associated cardiovascular, metabolic and physical morbidities.

Rates of obesity have risen dramatically in recent decades. Current statistics suggest that over 70% of Australian males and over 50% of Australian females are overweight or obese. More alarming is the rates of obesity in children with 20-25% of children and adolescents now meeting classifications for overweight or obese. Unfortunately Australia is now classified as one of the fattest developed nations in the world!

Several factors have contributed to Australia’s obesity epidemic and controlling the rise of obesity remains an ongoing public health challenge. Both increasingly sedentary lifestyles (with less need for physical activity) and easy access to high fat, cheap and tasty foods have been important contributing factors.

Fortunately various management options are available if you suffer from obesity. The most important treatment remains lifestyle changes, including changes to your diet and increasing physical activity. Vast numbers of commercial diets are available but you should aim to choose one that is safe, nutritious and which promotes lifelong changes in your eating behaviours. You should endeavour to increase your physical activity to promote energy expenditure and help maintain any weight lost. You should aim to participate in moderate intensity exercise (appropriate to your level of fitness) for 30 minutes at least 3-5 times per week. Whilst these lifestyle changes can be challenging, they can lead to substantial benefits in your overall health and wellbeing.

Recently more specific obesity treatments have also become available including pharmacological therapies (drugs) and surgical procedures. These treatments are usually only considered if you are severely overweight and have significant weight-related health conditions. Sibutramine (Reductil) and Orlistat (Xenical) are the weight loss drugs currently available in Australia. These drugs can help you lose up to 10% of your body weight. However, drugs have a limited role in the treatment of obesity as long-term weight loss is limited and they can cause nasty side effects of diarrhoea. Weight loss drugs should only be used for short periods of time and strictly as prescribed by your doctor.

Surgical options offer some hope if you are morbidly obese (BMI greater than 35) or have failed other therapies. The main procedure performed in Australia is laparoscopic gastric banding. This is generally a safe procedure which can help you shed up to 30-40kg of your excess weight. Furthermore, surgery is considered the only available treatment that produces significant and sustained weight loss in very obese patients.

Regardless of the treatment option chosen, you must remain well educated and extremely dedicated to achieve successful weight loss. Even surgical techniques require strict lifestyle changes to work effectively. Always remember that there is no quick fix solution for obesity and you need to make long-term changes. However, obesity treatment is not all doom and gloom. Studies have shown that even small reductions in weight can substantially improve your health. You (in conjunction with your doctor) should therefore set realistic goals for your weight loss.

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Dates

Posted On: 17 August, 2007
Modified On: 16 January, 2014

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Created by: myVMC