Australia needs a win in obesity marathon

Media release from Obesity Australia and the Obesity Summit in Canberra November 29, 2013 

The Obesity Summit in Canberra has called on the Minister of Health to carry through his pre-election undertaking to increased bariatric medicine and surgery.

In wrapping up the two-day summit, Obesity Australia chair Professor John Funder, said that despite the projected stringencies of the 2014 budget, the government would save lives and money by completing the undertaking.

“Australia needs a win in the race to halt the disease of chronic relapsing severe obesity,” he said.

While urging government leadership, Prof Funder acknowledged an initiative of the health and science sectors announced at the summit. Private healthcare group Bupa is teaming with scientific research organisation Charles Perkins Centre at the University of Sydney to help prospective parents minimise the risk of their children becoming overweight or developing obesity later on in life. 

“This means that one of our 2013 Action Agenda items – guidelines for prospective parents -- is off the agenda for government,” he said. “It is a small win in a marathon race, but it is a win nevertheless. However, other issues as detailed below will be added to the agenda as a result of the summit.” 

The second Obesity Summit convened by Obesity Australia attracted consumers, paediatricians, social scientists, students, obesity physicians and surgeons, local government, industry, and concerned citizens.

A second outcome of the summit was the realisation that the various groups in the obesity space need to be heard speaking with the one voice, for effective community support and government action, said Prof Funder. Such a statement will outline commonalities and then clarify the particular areas and issues on which individual groups will focus – primary prevention, secondary prevention and treatment.

A crucial outcome was the consensus that obesity is a disease, driven by environmental and genetic interplay, not a moral falling.

“This classification, recently adopted by the American Medical Association, is crucial to fully empower general practitioners to discuss the issue with their patients, and on this basis to inform them about the drivers of overweight and obesity, its consequences and the range of interventions available to address the problem,” said Prof Funder.

Obesity is a complex issue in terms of biology, behaviour, perceptions and culture, he said. “The summit is another milestone in Obesity Australia’s mission to drive change in public perceptions of obesity, its prevalence and its treatment.”

Over the past three decades in Australia the prevalence of overweight and obesity has increased more than three-fold. Australian data indicates a quarter of our adult population is obese, and another 40% overweight. Obesity is a serious, chronic, relapsing disease, with a constellation of associated disorders – diabetes, cardiovascular and renal disease, cancer, sleep apnoea and narcolepsy, depression and reproductive difficulties. These represent a massive cost issue in terms of health and productivity.

OECD’s annual Health at a Glance report issued last week (November 21) recorded Australia at number four among the fattest nations amongst OECD countries at 28.3%, behind the U.S. (36.5%), Mexico (32.4%) and New Zealand (28.4%). Previously, Australia was ranked fifth.