CALLS FOR RADICAL ACTION AFTER STUDY SHOWS AUSTRALIAN ARE GETTING FATTER
WELLNESS - RESEARCH - TRENDS - GOVERNMENT - ACTIVITY
Taxing junk food and subsidising healthy food have been flagged as potential solutions to Australia's diabetes problem after a study found the average young Australian has gained 6.7 kilograms in the past 12 years.
The just-released 'Australian Diabetes, Obesity and Lifestyle' (AusDiab) study traced thousands of people over the 12 years from 1999-2000 to 2012 and shows a disturbing picture of the nation's battle with diabetes and obesity.
It found that Australians aged between 25 and 34 weighed 6.7 kgs more than they did in 1999 and the only age groups to have their average weight drop were those over 65.
Researchers found the incidence of diabetes remained very high, with almost 270 adult Australians diagnosed each day, and people aged 25-34 were gaining more weight than other age groups.
Patients with diabetes had a similar risk of dying as smokers, and obese people were twice as likely to develop depression, according to the report - one of the most comprehensive studies tracking the health of Australians.
Joint Chief Investigator Professor Jonathan Shaw of the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute said radical action, such as an anti-obesity campaign similar to anti-smoking campaigns, may be needed as well as government initiatives such as taxing junk food and subsidising healthy foods.
Professor Shaw explained "one of the biggest contradictions is that people are living longer but they're being diagnosed with more disease. So their quality of life is being compromised.
"As a community, we need to be prepared to take some tough decisions.
"It's not impossible. Look at what we've achieved with gun control, smoking and water restrictions."
The report describes diabetes as one of the most challenging public health issues and says socioeconomic status plays a significant role in diabetes risk, with people in disadvantaged areas twice as likely to develop the disease.
Disadvantaged areas generally have more junk food outlets and fewer recreational opportunities, according to Baker IDI Associate Professor Anna Peeters, who adds "education and income are major determinants of health.
"The AusDiab data highlights the extent to which a person's environment makes a contribution to their wellbeing."
Every year, 0.7% of Australian adults develop diabetes, 3% develop high blood pressure and 0.4% to 0.7% develop signs of kidney damage.
Professor Shaw continued "the health and wellbeing of a whole generation of young Australians is being compromised by a lifestyle rich in energy-dense foods and low on physical activity.
While people aged 25 to 34 gained the most weight, 6.7kgs, people aged 35 to 44 put on 4.7kgs, the average weight of someone aged 45 to 54 increased by 2.7kgs and those aged between 65 and 74 lost 2.1kgs.
Researchers first went out to more than 40 randomly selected locations in 1999 and interviewed more than 11,000 people as well as putting them through physical tests. Over the years about 6,000 people came back to do the test in 2004-2005 and 2001-2012.
About 2,000 could not be physically tested by researchers and so self-reported their result, with researchers finding people were likely to estimate they were physically active 50% more of the time than they actually were.
The report also points to Australians developing a more sedentary lifestyle, spending twice as much time sitting than they thought they did.
Professor Shaw continued "we have a big problem. If we want to be serious about it we have to recognise it is not something that can be solved only through telling individuals what they need to do.
"It's complicated, but we need to find ways to make healthy food options the cheap options."
The report found that the average gain in waist circumference over the 12 years of the study was 5.3 centimetres and it was greater in women than men.
Professor Shaw stated "younger people don't seem to think about diseases in relation to their weight or their waist circumference, but that's where most of the weight gain is occurring.
"They've stopped doing exercise they did as a young single person - they've taken on a lot of family responsibilities - but they don't yet feel any great connection or risk of developing diseases such as diabetes.
"That's where we need to focus our efforts on preventing weight gain, because it's much easier to prevent weight gain than it is to achieve weight loss."
Despite public education campaigns, more than a third of people in the study were not meeting the physical activity guidelines of 30 minutes of exercise a day.
Researchers measured how much exercise people do, and how much time they were sitting down every day.
Professor Shaw says from this, they found many people's perceptions were inaccurate, stating "people significantly overestimate the amount of exercise they're doing by about 50%, and they underestimate by about half the amount of time they're spending sitting down."
Professor Shaw also expressed his disappointment that the previous recommendations designed to make Australia healthier from the Federal Government Preventative Health Task Force had been ignore, concluding "many of those ideas are now sitting on shelves gathering dust.
"Everything should be on the table: taxation levers, town planning, office space layout needs to be reconsidered to tackle the growing personal and community impact of chronic disease."
The AusDiab study was funded through a National Health and Medical Research Council grant and followed 11,000 Australians for 12 years.