New figures show the Illawarra, and the rest of Australia, is losing the battle of the bulge.
The number of overweight and obese Australians has been growing steadily for decades and shows no signs of slowing down.
According to a National Health Performance Authority report, an estimated 10,832,000 Australian adults – 63 per cent of the adult population – were overweight or obese in 2011-12.
This compares with 44 per cent of the population in 1989, 50 per cent in 2001, 53 per cent in 2004-05, and 55 per cent in 2007-08.
The Illawarra-Shoalhaven region sits right on the national average with 28 per cent classified as obese, and another 35 per cent as overweight. That means there are an estimated 190,000 adults in the region who are either overweight or obese.
A study of smoking rates released at the same time revealed that the number of smokers continues to decline, but also that the Illawarra-Shoalhaven sits well above the national and NSW smoking rates.
According to the report, 20 per cent of Illawarra-Shoalhaven adults are daily smokers compared with 14per cent of the state adult population and 16 per cent of the national adult population.
Illawarra-Shoalhaven Medicare Local population health and planning manager Abhijeet Ghosh said smoking and unhealthy weight were two of the biggest contributors to preventable hospitalisations and deaths in the region.
The growing number of overweight and obese people in particular put stress on the healthcare system.
‘‘These numbers keep creeping up; we keep adding people to the chronic disease burden.
‘‘Avoidable admissions at the hospital are putting pressure on the tertiary care system and when they are not at the hospital they are visiting their GP more frequently, and putting more pressure on the community healthcare sector,’’ Mr Ghosh said.
Being overweight is associated with a higher risk of conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular diseases and digestive disorders.
‘‘If you are obese you are less likely to engage in cardio-protective activities such as healthy eating, exercise, and a healthy lifestyle. And so you are likely to increase your blood pressure and to lead a more sedentary lifestyle, which complicates all of these conditions.’’
Mr Ghosh said there were some positives in the report, citing the fact the Illawarra-Shoalhaven was doing better than some regions with similar demographics, such as the Hunter and the Central Coast.
‘‘These numbers indicate that healthcare practitioners and services in the Illawarra-Shoalhaven region are working reasonably effectively because our rates are lower than the highest rates in the state, lower than the highest rates in Australia. And, in the comparable group of regional areas, we are ranked lower than the others,’’ Mr Ghosh said.
‘‘But still, as a stand-alone figure 63 or 64 per cent being overweight or obese is ridiculously high. While the figures are encouraging, there is a huge scope for improvement.’’
With childhood obesity rates on the rise, the number of overweight and obese adults is likely to continue to rise.
‘‘Obese and overweight parents are a predictor for childhood obesity in the family as well, so these trends will affect those for childhood obesity as well.’’
Mr Ghosh said the NHPA report emphasised the need for a co-ordinated approach to healthcare in the region.
‘‘Health promotion programs should roll out more frequently and more sustainably. We need to upstream our healthcare investments into preventative health.’’