Australia’s peak nutrition body is calling on the Federal Government to refocus on a coordinated effort to preventing obesity-related poor health, rather than a ‘Band-Aid’ approach.
The call comes as new research from the Sax Institute reveals overweight and obesity among Australia’s over-45s is costing the nation nearly $4 billion a year[i].
The Sax Institute’s 45 and Up study found that for those over 45 years an average of one in every six days spent in hospital is as a result of overweight and obesity.
Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA) CEO Claire Hewat said: ‘Drastic measures are needed in preventing overweight and obesity, as we know it’s difficult to lose weight once the excess kilos are there. Surgical measures, like bariatric surgery, are expensive and still require strict adherence to a healthy diet over a long time to be successful.
‘If we don’t do something about prevention now, it’s going to cost an awful lot to do bariatric surgery on two-thirds of the population, which is the number of Australian adults who are currently overweight or obese.’
She said rather than focussing on an ‘obesity crisis’, a coordinated effort is needed to tackle poor nutrition and physical inactivity – which are huge risk factors for many diseases that affect Australians, regardless of their weight.
‘Many people are confused about what day-to-day diet choices to make. Going back to the basic food groups may provide some guidance for these people, taking care to limit those foods that have little nutrition but are high in energy, saturated fat, and added sugar and salt,’ said Ms Hewat.
And she said fostering good eating habits in childhood is crucial, as these habits typically track into adulthood.
‘Diet-related chronic diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes, cost the health system billions each year – and this figure is set to rise. We simply can’t afford to throw in the towel on prevention,’ said Ms Hewat.
She said DAA was disappointed the Federal Government and a number of state governments have recently walked away from a focus on prevention by drastically cutting public health nutrition staffing and closing the National Preventative Health Agency, seemingly preferring to wait until Australians get so sick they need to go to hospital.
At an individual level, Ms Hewat encouraged Australians to speak with their General Practitioner on ways to improve their overall health, and recommended seeing an Accredited Practising Dietitian for individual advice and support on healthy eating.
Australia’s last National Nutrition Survey[ii] found more than 2.3 million Australians aged 15 years and over were on a diet to lose weight or for some other health reason.
The survey (of 12,000 Australians) indicates more than one-third (35%) of total daily energy (kilojoule) intake was from ‘discretionary’ or ‘extra’ foods. These foods and drinks are defined as those not necessary to provide the nutrients the body needs. Instead, these foods are high in energy and provide a significant source of saturated fats, sugars and salt in the diet. Sadly, the proportion of energy from discretionary foods was 30% among 2-3 year old children and higher still among the 14-18 year olds at 41%.
Only 5.6% of Australians reported consuming sufficient fruit and vegetables.