Six out of every 10 Australians are overweight or obese, yet only one third consider themselves overweight, revealing a frightening disparity between perceptions and reality. Australia, it seems, is a nation in denial.
The findings are part of an international health survey, which aims to understand the trends in health and wellbeing in 12 developed and developing countries in Europe, Asia, the Americas, the Middle East and Australasia, as well as examine the influences, perceptions and behaviours which determine the quality of health in those nations.
The survey, conducted by health insurer BUPA, found Australia to be the third most obese nation behind the US and Saudi Arabia, despite 64 per cent of Australians (and 67 per cent of New Zealanders) considering themselves to be healthy.
The survey revealed a number of contradictions between perceptions and behaviour.
Notably, 51 per cent of Australians agreed that they would like to lose weight, however, 44 per cent admitted to doing little or no exercise.
Similarly, 76 per cent of Australians believe it is the individual’s responsibility to adopt preventative health measures, yet only 28 per cent eat five or more servings of fruit or vegetables a day; and Australians were found to be the second highest consumers of alcohol, behind the UK.
“The results highlight a serious disparity between our perception of ourselves, and the reality of our behaviour, which is leading many Australians firmly down the path of chronic disease,” Dr Bert Boffa, head of Medical Services for BUPA, said.
“The research found the biggest barrier to Australians making healthier lifestyle choices was personal motivation,” Dr Boffa explained. “Time and expense were also cited as other important factors.”
The disparity was not just confined to Australia, however. Internationally, the survey found that people are more worried about developing cancer than any other long-term health condition, while obesity and depression were shown to be the biggest long-term health risk.
Despite their worries, however, 37 per cent of Australians said they did not visit a doctor when they had health concerns.
In explaining the contradiction between perceived and real health concerns, Dr Boffa points to the wealth of health information available on the web. “With the amount of online health information available, the question remains whether we are using it to our advantage or whether it’s making us feel more overwhelmed and confused.”
Indeed, the survey found that 39 per cent of all internet users utilise the web to self-diagnose, with the highest numbers recorded in New Zealand (52 per cent) and America (49 per cent).
Referring to the findings as a whole, prominent social analyst and commentator David Chalke said: “The results are alarming, particularly when we look at them in the context of Australia’s ageing population and a continuing emphasis by government and other organisations on preventive health measures.”
“We need to arm Australians with better tools and information to help them make better informed health choices,” Dr Boffa concluded.
What about you, reader …
– How do you ensure you stay fit and healthy?
– Do you use the Internet to self diagnose?
– What are your long term health concerns?