Just a quarter of Australians are at a healthy weight, according to a study which also put the total cost of caring for the nation’s overweight and obese people at more than $56 billion a year.
Direct health care and other related costs totalled $21 billion, according to a study published in the Medical Journal of Australia, while government subsidies cost another $35.6 billion a year.
Professor Stephen Colagiuri, Professor of Metabolic Health at the University of Sydney, and his co-authors analysed data from the Australian Diabetes, Obesity and Lifestyle study, collected in 1999-2000 and 2004-2005.
He said the research took account of all costs – borne by individuals and the taxpaying public – which flow from the problem of being overweight or obese.
“Traditionally, studies report only costs associated with obesity and rarely take overweight into account,” Professor Colagiuri said in a statement.
“We found that the direct cost of overweight and obesity in Australia is significantly higher than previous estimates.
“As the number of overweight and obese adult Australians continues to increase, the direct cost of overweight and obesity will also continue to rise.”
The study took in body weight data from 6140 typically middle-aged people, just over half (54.1 per cent) of whom were women.
Just 24.7 per cent were deemed to be of normal healthy weight, with 32.4 per cent considered overweight and 42.9 per cent rated as obese according to their body mass index score or waist circumference.
Professor Colagiuri said it was important to account for both overweight as well as obesity as both were associated with an increased risk of health problems and cost.
Healthcare costs flowing from the nation’s overweight and obese population include ambulance services, hospital visits, prescription medication and items such as blood glucose self-monitoring meters and strips.
The research also took account of the cost of transport to hospital, supported accommodation and special food while the government subsidies included aged, disability and veteran pensions, mobility and sickness allowances and unemployment benefits.
Professor Colagiuri says there is financial incentive at individual and societal levels for overweight and obese people to lose weight and/or reduce their waist circumference.