Weight Control

Are Australians Obese?

It has been estimated that, sometime within the past few weeks, the world’s population has ticked over the seven billion mark. It seems we’re populating the world at an ever increasing rate. Fifty years ago there were about three billion of us. In half a century we’ve had to find room for more than twice the number of people within the same available space. So getting fat will become an even less comfortable option.

Of course, being comfortable is probably one of the least of our concerns. Being overweight has some serious health implications

Put simply, the cause of being overweight is too much energy in, and too little energy out. That is too much food, too little exercise.

However, whilst the underlying cause of obesity is much more complex, the resulting problems are well known: most commonly type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular (heart and blood vessel) disease, social exclusion and low self esteem.

Worldwide, diabetes is fast reaching epidemic proportions. In fact, diabetes is the fourth main cause of death in most developed countries. In 1985, the best data available suggested that 30 million people had diabetes. Fast-forward 15 years and the numbers were revised to just over 150 million. Today, just another 11 years on, new data show that a staggering 300 million people are living with diabetes. In the next generation that number is expected to rise by a further 200 million. The latest figures from the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) Diabetes Atlas indicate that people in low and middle-income countries are bearing the brunt of the epidemic.

However, we Australians are certainly not immune. Studies show that nearly one in four Australian adults either has diabetes or so-called impaired glucose metabolism which is associated with a substantial risk of diabetes and heart disease.

Diabetes is a condition where the body can’t use glucose properly – usually because of a lack of insulin or so-called insulin resistance when the body fails to respond to its own insulin. Insulin is the chemical messenger or hormone that controls the uptake of glucose by muscles, liver and fat tissues.

In type 2 diabetes, which accounts for about 85% of all people with diabetes, insulin is still produced but for some reason it doesn’t work effectively. While it most often affects mature adults, more and more younger people, even children, are getting type 2 diabetes. It’s very much a lifestyle disease, and more young people are getting type 2 diabetes because more young people are getting fatter sooner.

Clearly achieving and maintaining a healthy weight is important; but being a ‘big loser’ with respect to weight doesn’t mean your new lower weight will be easy to maintain. New Australian research, published recently in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine has shown that, once we become overweight or obese, hormone changes reset what our body thinks is the ‘normal’ weight at this heavier level.

It is much easier, therefore, not to become overweight in the first place. And if you need to lose weight, take it slowly. According to the Australian Diabetes Council website by losing just 5–7% of excess weight and participating in moderate intensity exercise for 150 minutes each week can reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes by more than 50%.

To increase awareness of diabetes, its associated problems, prevention strategies and available treatments, World Diabetes Day is celebrated each year on November 14. So, now’s the time to become more diabetes aware.