Preventative programs, not higher insurance premiums, are the key to Australia's obesity epidemic, according to Illawarra nutrition expert Professor Linda Tapsell.
The director of University of Wollongong's Smart Foods Centre on Tuesday launched a new study that will take a novel approach to weight loss.
The HealthTrack Illawarra Shoalhaven Healthy Lifestyle study will bring together experts in a range of fields to help community members manage their weight.
Prof Tapsell noted the recent National Commission of Audit had proposed allowing health funds to charge higher premiums because of customer "lifestyle choices".
But while this might target obesity, prevention was better than cure, she said.
"These kinds of signals are saying 'listen people, this is a serious issue', but from a health practitioner's perspective we just want to work with people so we can prevent big problems before they occur," she said.
"What's different about this new healthy lifestyle trial is that we're really trying to work quite holistically, so we've got doctors, nurses, dieticians, psychologists, exercise physiologists and statisticians all working together to create a means by which we can better support people primarily to lose weight."
Prof Tapsell said the trial, which is being run by the Illawarra Health and Medical Research Institute, would need at least 350 participants aged between 25 and 54.
"This is a significant issue within our community," she said. "Over 60 per cent of Australians are now classed as overweight and Illawarra and Shoalhaven residents are, on average, above the state average.
"We want to work with them to see what the barriers are to a healthy lifestyle, so they don't face health problems later in life and so that they can get much more enjoyment out of life.
"HealthTrack is the start of our going into the local community and working with community members to create a healthier population."
For more details or to apply to take part in the free trial, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or 1800 194 717.