Obesity battle being lost in regional Queensland

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Updated January 23, 2020 06:30:32

More Queenslanders than ever before are battling the bulge, with new data revealing rates of obesity in regional areas of the state are the highest they have been.

Key points:

  • A state government program aimed at reducing obesity rates is failing to reach its targets
  • However, fewer Queensland children are now considered to be overweight or obese
  • In the Rockhampton suburb of Berserker, 45.9 per cent of the population are classified as obese

A total 32.4 per cent of Queenslanders are now classified as obese and a further 33.5 per cent are overweight, according to South Australia’s Torrens University, which compiled the figures using Australian Bureau of Statistics data.

Two out of every three adults are now considered overweight or obese, while in children it is one in every four.

Berserker, a Rockhampton suburb, tipped the scales with 45.9 per cent of the population classified as obese, while Noosa recorded the lowest rate at 21.2 per cent of its population.

Torrens University Public Health Information Development Unit director John Glover said the data was concerning.

“The proportion of the population [in Australia] in the normal weight category has dropped from 44 per cent to 32 per cent, at the same time the proportion of people who are obese has gone from 19 per cent to 31,” Professor Glover said.

Government program fails to reach targets

The data comes as new figures reveal a Queensland state government program aimed at reducing the number of overweight and obese adults across the state is failing to reach its targets.

The most recent report on the Health and Wellbeing Strategic Framework shows that in 2014, 58 per cent of the adult population in Queensland was considered overweight or obese.

The program’s 2020 target to reduce that number to 55 per cent has fallen short by 114,000 people.

The report, released earlier this month, states: “There has been no decrease in the prevalence of adult overweight and obesity. It is unlikely the 5 per cent reduction will be achieved by 2020.”

The document also reveals the number of people now considered to be of a healthy weight range failed to reach its 2020 target by almost 70,000 adults, with just 35 per cent of the population having a healthy weight.

Robyn Littlewood, chief executive of Health and Wellbeing Queensland — a new state government agency designed to tackle the growing problem of expanding waistlines — said obesity was a complex issue and the Health and Wellbeing Strategic Framework was a good start.

“The way that we’ve done it in the past, it just doesn’t work,” Professor Littlewood said.

“The future’s big and it’s complicated … so this cannot work by just implementing a tax. There is no magic pill or treatment, this has to be an approach across government.”

The data on children is more promising, with the program showing 47,000 fewer children now considered to be overweight or obese, and 23 per cent of Queenslanders aged 18 years now meeting a healthy weight range.

A further 154,000 children are now more physically active every day, bringing the total to 43 per cent of the population, up from 39 per cent in 2014.

More than $14 million has been invested into the framework, reaching 300,000 Queenslanders — the equivalent of 6 per cent of the population.

“In terms of adults, we’re looking at healthy weight, we’re looking at fruit and veg intake, we’re looking at the way we move,” Professor Littlewood said.

What makes a suburb fat or fit?

Professor Glover believes there is a direct link between regional areas considered to be disadvantaged and those with high rates of obesity.

“We can see across Australia as a whole that areas which have got a high proportion of the population who are obese are the most disadvantaged areas of the country,” Professor Glover said.

“When we talk about socioeconomic disadvantage, we’re talking about people on lower incomes, people who are unemployed, people who are living in poor housing circumstances … there’s a whole range of factors there.”

In Rockhampton, 59-year-old Pam Hutton has been on a journey to improve her health and fitness for the past two years.

In that time, she has lost 20 kilograms by training five days a week at a local women’s-only gym.

“It’s been up and down, food is always my biggest problem,” Ms Hutton said.

“Like most women, I emotionally eat but I never have trouble with the training. I love to train.”

The local teacher aide said the range of foods available in Rockhampton was having a big impact on the health of people in the region.

“The fast food is just too easy. You can go to any corner store and grab something that’s fattening and easy and cheap,” she said.

“Yesterday, it cost me $90 just on fruit and vegetables for two of us in our family, so it’s just ridiculous. Healthy food is expensive, fast food isn’t.”

Her personal trainer, Cindy McCulloch, said people in regional Queensland did not have the same opportunities to improve their health and lifestyle as those in metropolitan areas.

“[There’s a] bit of a limited access, so we don’t have as much variety and we don’t have access to physios, personal trainers and all the stuff that the big cities have,” Ms McCulloch said.

“I think there needs to be more awareness and more support about getting the community involved and supporting people like us, like gyms, in getting the message out there.”

Nature and climate key to Noosa’s healthy population

Noosa Council puts its low rate of obesity down to a good climate and natural environment, which lends itself to being outdoors.

Community development officer Cheryl Pattison said there were many activities in the region that were free or low cost.

“We have great facilities, we have fantastic national parks, pathways, cycleways, trail networks, so there’s plenty of outdoor activity to do and I guess our climate allows us to do that,” Ms Pattison said.

Professor Glover said the best approach to beating obesity was starting the education early.

“It needs to be a 20, 30-year, a generational approach, starting with the youngest, early years of life,” he said.

“It [obesity] may lead to things like heart disease and early and premature death, so it is a whole-of-life and a long-term thing and I’m not quite sure that we in Australia … are ready to do it yet.”

Topics: obesity, regional, diet-and-nutrition, mens-health, womens-health, health, human-interest, rockhampton-4700, noosa-heads-4567, qld

First posted January 23, 2020 06:28:26

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