31 March 2023

Walking the fine line between healthy self-image and health itself

| Ross Solly
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chocolate bathroom scales fat obese overweight Photo: File.

Two in three adults in the ACT now consider themselves overweight or obese. Photo: File.

If Canberra has an obesity problem, imagine how drastic it must be for the rest of Australia.

The ACT Health Officer recently released a report showing we are leading the nation in many of the good things we expect from a well-educated, wealthy and generally careful community.

We should give ourselves a good pat on the back for that.

But we should all be alarmed at our growing rates of obesity. Of most concern is the increase in rates of obesity among kindergarten-age kids.

In the decade since 2011, the number of adults who could be classified as obese grew from 20.2 per cent to 26.7 per cent. Staggeringly, two in three adults in the ACT now consider themselves overweight or obese.

One in every three ACT children is now considered overweight or obese.

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The Chief Health Officer is doing her best to raise the alarm.

“The impacts of overweight and obesity on individuals, our families, community and health systems are such that it is critical that there continues to be a strong focus on how we can turn things around,” she writes in her report.

Another study – the ACT Personality and Total Health Through Life Study (PATH study) – blows the whistle on the depth of the problem we are facing. It’s a generational issue – younger people are experiencing more overweight and obesity than previous generations did at the same age.

Here is where it gets tricky.

The CHO tells us we need to support individuals living with overweight and obesity while encouraging a positive self-image and promoting positive health changes.

In recent times these conversations have become more difficult.

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Body shaming has become a serious issue in our community. Our current Australian of the Year, Taryn Brumfitt, was recognised for bringing to our attention how challenging it can be to stare down the haters and to make people feel good about their shape.

But has this led to a reluctance as a community to openly discuss issues of weight and obesity? It’s certainly more of a minefield than it once was.

If we want to put a positive spin on it, we are doing better than the rest of the country.

In 2018, around 35 per cent of our adult population claimed to be of a healthy weight, which compared to 31.7 per cent of all Australian adults.

The ACT has the lowest proportion of adults who were either overweight or obese compared to other Australian states and territories. An incredible 67 per cent of Australian adults are considered overweight or obese, compared with 64 per cent in the ACT.

But we are smart.

We all know that people living with obesity have a life expectancy that is reduced by two to 10 years. It’s similar to the impact of smoking. It’s why, as difficult as it might be, we need to have the conversation and escalate its importance.

Overweight and obesity contribute to 8.4 per cent of the total disease burden in Australia and the numbers are growing way too fast.

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