With the recent launch of the government’s social media campaign ‘Make Healthy Normal’ it’s time again to discuss the status of obesity in our country. The campaign is informative, heartening and a step in the right direction but much more drastic measures are needed for lasting change.
Worldwide obesity has more than doubled since 1980 and most of the world's population live in countries where overweight and obesity kills more people than underweight. At the rate we are going, this may be the first generation to live shorter lives than the one before.
Obesity in Australia is on the rise each year with currently almost two thirds of adult Australians overweight or obese and a quarter of children. Coupled with this, chronic disease has increased in our country and accounts for a huge amount of the Australian health budget.
It is estimated that together, the direct and indirect costs of overweight in Australia is over 21 billion each year.
Is this just the result of wealth and gluttony of the West? Why can’t fat individuals stop being so lazy and get up and exercise?
It’s much more complicated than affluence and individual responsibility.
Let’s look at the demographics of the most obese in NSW alone. The hot spot for obesity in our state is Western NSW with 79 percent of the population overweight or obese (NHPA 2013). What’s unique about this area? It’s rural and isolated, but also has a low socio-economic status and education level.
Obesity is not a disease of the voracious, but of the most vulnerable, poor and uneducated. Maybe then if they had the choice, they would choose to be healthier. According to the Nielson Global Health and Wellness survey, about half of us are trying to shed kilos (Nielson 2015), so then what is stopping us?
Deception, addiction and ignorance.
There are more ‘fat free’ and diet options in supermarkets than ever before but we’re the fattest we’ve ever been. What is going on? When I walk through the supermarket I see so many items claiming to be ‘fat free’ but when I pick them up they are 40% sugar. Or conversely, products claiming to be ‘sugar free’ that contain mounds of fat. Most people can’t fully read or understand food labels, so what’s presented on the front is all they’ve got and take at face value, falling victim to the claims that are on the front of the food product. If you want to stay under 5% of sugar and 5% of fat in food products when you’re shopping, there are whole aisles in the supermarket you have to avoid. This is what’s killing us.
Disease doesn’t happen over consuming something once, but thousands of times. And this is what we’re doing. The recommended daily sugar intake for a person is 6 teaspoons a day (WHO 2015b). The average Australian is consuming 27 a day. Refined sugar has no nutritional value for us but is packed full of calories and there is hidden sugar in so much of what we consume. Even things you’d least expect. Like your pasta sauce, vegetable juice, health bars, salad dressing. Sugar also has many names, so don’t be fooled. Just to name a few: sugar, sucrose, high fructose corn syrup, dehydrated cane juice, fructose, glucose, dextrose, syrup, cane sugar, raw sugar, corn syrup and more.
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