Australian Public Health Issue: ObesityTrends and Patterns of Obesity across Australian Population
A rising and alarming trend that has been observed across Australia is the increasing number of obese people in the nation. The same has been regarded as the primary cause of concern to public health and public health services as because obesity is associated with a number of side effects and diseases.
As with any other country, the health of the people of the nation is one of the main primary concerns for the government of Australia and the current trend in increase in the number of obese people across the nation is a major cause of worry (Booth et al. 2006). Not only have the adult citizens of the nation been observed to be affected by the health condition, what is more alarming is the fact that increasing number of children are falling prey to the same.
In Australia, the issue of obesity has been well established by the findings of National Health Survey in 2004-2005. The same indicated that nearly half of the total population of the country self reported being overweight and obese. The study found more than 7.4 million adult citizens to be obese and overweight. What has been alarming observation is the fact that in the year 2004-2005 close to three in every 10 children or young people in Australia had been found to be obese or overweight (Allman-Farinelli et al. 2007). The same figures in 2013 by Australian Institute of Health and Wellness have highlighted that three in five Australian adults are obese or overweight and the same related to children and young people highlighted that one in every four Australian children or youngsters have been observed to be overweight or obese (www.aihw.gov.au, 2014).
The same study indicates that more than half of the citizens of the country are overweight and especially males are more likely to be obese or overweight than in the case of female citizens of the nation. It has also been observed that there is a very thin line between being overweight and obese.
Increase in the percentage of people who are overweight or obese has been increasing at an alarming rate. In the year 1989-1990 the percentage of obese or overweight adults in the nation was reported to be roughly 4.6 million. In the year 1995 the same had been reported to be 5.4 million, which increased to 6.6 million in the year 2001. By the year 2004-2005 the same figure had increased to 7.4 million people, leading to the fact that obesity and overweight are today considered to be the most important concern to be addressed by the nation (www.abs.gov.au, 2014). Children and young adults are the ones to be particularly affected by the situation. This has been specifically observed in the percentage of the young people considered overweight and obese. In early 1960’s roughly 5% of the young population of the nation had been found to be overweight or obese, which has increased to an astounding 25% in the recent years (www.aihw.gov.au, 2014).
An important indicator of obesity in case of the population of the nation is BMI (body mass index) which have been observed to steadily increase over the years, especially among young children ready to enter into adulthood. As far as the average weight of the population of the country is concerned, it has been seen that the same have been increasing from 0.5 kilogram to 1 kilogram for the last 20 years in the country (www.abs.gov.au, 2014).
These facts and figures have been the basis of this academic presentation as overweight and obesity are associated with various ailments. The fact that the same has been increasing among the population of the nation over the years makes it important to be able to identify the implications and the actions that are taken to address this very important issue of public health in the nation.
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Variation in Obesity levels across Australia and contributory influences
The levels of obesity in the population of the country have also been observed to vary according to the section of the population and the lifestyle of the people of the nation. In view of the above, the opinions of Seo and Sa (2008) suggest that being overweight and obese have been observed to be a more profound factor for urban population of the nation than in case of the rural sections of the country.
A comparison of weight among 100 urban and 100 rural citizens of the nation in the age group of 25-30 years revealed that approximately 47% of the urban citizens were overweight or obese as compared to 36% of the citizens belonging to rural sections of the country. At the same time, the lifestyle and profession of the people of the nation have also been regarded to be one of the major factors leading to instances of obesity among the population of the nation (Dunstan et al. 2005).
In cities and urban localities the population comprises of office workers and predominantly citizens employed in blue collared jobs which require them to work in an office environment. The sedentary lifestyle of these people are believed to be the main reason behind the findings which state that citizens in urban areas are more likely to be obese and overweight as compared to citizens from rural areas (Merom et al. 2009). An important fact that has been highlighted in the studies is that majority of the population of the nation are based around the major urban and metropolitan localities due to ease of employment opportunities and better lifestyles.
The same have been found to be the reason behind the increasing level of obesity and overweight issues in the nation. Along with a sedentary lifestyle, work in various offices and in a competitive environment is also linked with increasing tension and sleep disorders, leading to inefficient metabolism in the body, an important factor which leads to obesity and increased weight. Even patterns of nutrition have been recorded to be more on the unhealthy side due to limited availability of time and professional pressure (Jaimie and Lock, 2009).
As far as the children are concerned, there has been a major change in the lifestyle patterns over the years. Increased media access has led to a change in the tastes and preferences of children and young adults. Outdoor games have been replaced by multimedia games, social network and also numerous attractions on television. As a result of which, it has been observed that the children are more likely to spend their free time involving in activities that do not lead to burning calories and energy (aihw.gov.au, 2014). Combined with this particular aspect is the fact that more and more children and young adults prefer nutrition over commercialized food and beverage habits presented by food chains such as MacDonald’s, Burger King and others, which lead to consumption of fat and calories. The same are not burnt through vigorous physical activities which lead to an increase in weight and obesity conditions for children and young adults (Seo and Sa, 2008). As compared to the children in rural areas, they are characterized by poor fitness conditions and also by an increased body-mass index (BMI).
The socio-economic conditions of the country also plays a contributory role, as due to opportunities which are readily available in urban and metropolitan areas, more people are likely to prefer these places for residing rather than those in urban areas. As a result of which, there has been observation of an increase in issues related to obesity and overweight.
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Implications of Rising Obesity Levels to public health and Public Health Services
There are several implications of the rising levels of obesity to public health and the provision of public health services.
The first and the foremost important aspect that needs to be highlighted is the fact that increases in weight and obesity has a direct effect on the fitness levels of individuals in the country. Fitness is associated with a normal and healthy lifestyle and the impact of the same will not only lead to adverse effects for individuals, but the same will also lead to increased pressure on the government to be able to provide effective and efficient health services to the population of the nation (Hattersley et al. 2007).
It has been highlighted by Australian Institute of Health and Wellness that if the current trend continues then in another 10 years, majority of the population of the nation will be overweight and obese. At the same time, an alarming fact is that increasing number of children and young adults have been observed to become overweight and obese, who will be one of the main reasons behind an obese population in the nation.
The implications arising out of excessive weight gain and obesity can be highlighted on two fronts – public health and the impact on the government.
From a public health point of view, increase in weight and obesity is a critical factor that can lead to many adverse medical conditions. Obesity is directly associated with diabetes and it is important that the implications to public health be identified at an early stage. Diabetes is regarded to be the cause for a number of diseases and ailments and at chronic stages, the same leads to organ failures (Zuppa et al. 2003). Obesity is also linked with cardio-vascular diseases that cause disruption in the circulation of blood in the body, causing various heart ailments (Dixon et al. 2006). Obesity is also responsible for osteoarthritis, which affects motion among human individuals. Another affect that obesity has on the human body is that it causes various forms of cancer such as colorectal cancer, breast cancer, uterine and also kidney cancer (Kelly et al. 2008). It needs to be specified, that these are various long term effects of obesity on the human body and eradication of the same is an important factor.
From the impact on the government point of view, these will lead to a situation of serious health problems in the nation in case the current trend and patterns are continued to prevail. In such a scenario, expenditure behind public health and the treatment of people is also expected to increase substantially (Kelly et al. 2008).
Thus, it becomes important to focus on the prevention of such a situation through the development of appropriate policies and strategies aimed at reducing obesity.
Response of Australian Public Health on Obesity
National strategies aimed at addressing issue of obesity in Australia
With respect to ensuring better health conditions for the people of the nation, there are various strategies that have been formulated and implemented by the country. A few of the same have been comprehensively mentioned here.
Prioritizing supply of lower risk products – one of the most important strategies that have been developed by the country related to the enhancement of supply of lower risk products in the country in order to ensure that the population focuses on consumption of healthier products. In other words, regulation of the supply of higher risk products in the nations leads to an increase in the prices of these commodities (aihw.gov.au, 2014). This is expected to act as a deterrent to the population resulting in reduction in the consumption of these commodities in the nation (Chapman et al. 2006).
Regulation of advertisements related to unhealthy food – another strategy that has been adopted by the nation is the regulation of advertisements related to unhealthy food. The government of Australia is of the opinion that the children and the young population of the nation is more likely to be influenced by the advertisements and consume relatively unhealthy food products, as they are unaware of the long term impacts of the same on their health. At the same time, it is not possible to prevent this section of the young population from consumption of these food items. The solution that has been devised is that the advertisements would be regulated so as to minimize the impact of the same on the minds of children and youngsters (Powell and Chaloupka, 2009).
The anticipation of such a move is that it will lead to a reduction in the consumption as children would not be ideally exposed to the influences of such advertisements on Australian media (aihw.gov.au, 2014).
Improvement of Public education and information – another national strategy that has been adopted in the nation is towards the improvement of public education and information regarding the adverse effects of obesity and being overweight. The government of the nation expects that through the implementation of such strategies in the nation, it would be possible to raise awareness against the adverse effects of obesity among the population of the nation (Olsen and Heitmann, 2009).
Special attention is being provided on highlighting the causes of obesity and the different harmful effects of the same on the health of human beings in the country. It is believed that an educated and informed population would be less likely to resort to unhealthy eating and lifestyle.
Influencing urban environment to healthy food options – as part of the awareness strategies of the nation, focus is provided on the provision of healthy food options to the urban environment (Olsen and Heitmann, 2009). As it has been established in the city, the health conditions of the population in urban areas are comparatively not as good as in case of rural areas due to ease of access to unhealthy food and also due to lifestyle.
Public Health Initiative – Awareness related to overweight and obesity and poor nutrition
The various initiatives that have been developed and implemented by the nation can be categorized into population level initiatives and public level initiatives and interventions.
The population level interventions are specifically based on the enhancement of the health of the people of the nation, and as such an important aspect that is considered to be a key component of the same is that of awareness related to obesity and overweight (Mackerras, 2009).
Figure 1: Strategies and guidelines related to prevention of obesity and overweight (Source: aihw.gov.au, 2014)
There are various components to this particular strategy or initiative and the same have been highlighted in the graphical representation above. The analysis of the same need to be conducted on the basis of three basic aspects – objectives, policy implementation, and future sustenance of the same (Olsen and Heitmann, 2009).
The primary objective of the development of the strategy is to ensure that the population of the country remains healthy and are protected from the adverse impacts of health conditions such as obesity and overweight. The main idea is to prevent the occurrence of the same at early stages so that the population of the country is benefitted, and there is also lesser pressure on the government of the nation (Kelly et al. 2008). Based on the same, there have been the formulations of various sub strategies which are regarded to be useful for the attainment of the planned objectives. This is one of the main reasons as to why this particular initiative has also been divided into smaller strategies in order to ensure better health conditions for the people of the nation.
From a policy implementation point of view, the leadership of the nation aims at achieving consensus among all sections of the population irrespective of whether they belong to urban areas or rural areas. An important feature of the implementation is the consideration for including physical activities among children of different age groups. The government focuses on effective implementation of the planned strategies that requires the voluntary participation of different agents of the community or population (aihw.gov.au, 2014). The policies of healthy food consumption and physical activities are perceived to be complemented by the stand of the government to reduce the availability and promotion of food products that are considered to have an adverse effect on the health, especially among young children and young adults (). At the same time, policies related to regulation of advertisements and improvement of the education and information frameworks related to the adverse impacts of obesity seem to be in alignment with the objectives of the nation (aihw.gov.au, 2014).
As far as the future sustenance of the same is concerned the first thought that would come to the minds of the people is that how can the sense emergency be instilled in a new ruling party voted to power after expiry of current tenures. The answer to the question can be expected to lie in the fact that government of Australia, irrespective of the political color, would continue to support public health and public health policies in the nation (Kelly et al. 2008).
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As in the case of any public policies and strategies, the concerned public health strategy in this case is also regarded to be accompanied with challenges and issues.
The first being presented by the fact that business organisations based on the production and provision of food and beverages contribute to a significant portion of the country’s GDP. At the same time, they are also help responsible for obesity and government initiatives are aimed at reducing their influence on children and young population, who constitute a major portion of their customer segment. In the long run, the same will have an impact on the revenue generation of the country (Cali and Caprio, 2008).
Another critical aspect that needs to be highlighted is that the issue of obesity and overweight has been observed to be comparatively more profound among urban populations than that of rural population. There has to be development of long term solutions to the provision of healthy food and lifestyle conditions in urban areas. Given the rapid expanse of various cities and the increasingly difficult lifestyles of the people, there needs to be development of initiatives for the promotion of healthier lifestyles of the citizens as well (Kelly et al. 2008).
On the positive side, the initiatives that have been developed by the nation and the various public health care policies aimed at addressing obesity and overweight are regarded to be effective in curbing the increasing incidents of obesity and overweight in the population of the nation. Focus on the socio-economic factors is anticipated to lead to effective solutions for the national health concern in Australia.