Technical Paper 1:
Obesity in Australia: a need for urgent action

2 - Obesity in Australia

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The prevalence of overweight and obesity has been increasing significantly over the last two decades. Data from the 2004–2005 National Health Survey indicate that nearly half of all Australian adults (based on self-reported height and weight) were overweight or obese in 2004–2005: around 7.4 million adults were overweight or obese (over one-third of these were obese) and close to three in every 10 Australian children and young people were overweight or obese.[2]

The most recent measured national prevalence estimates for adults are from a survey conducted in 1999–2000 among Australians aged 25 years and over:[2, 3]

  • Overall, almost 60% of the participants were overweight or obese (59.6%).[4] Males (67.4%) were more likely than females (52.0%) to be overweight or obese.[2]1
  • The prevalence of being overweight but not obese was 39.1%: 48.2% for males and 30.2% for females.[3]
  • The prevalence of obesity was 20.5%: 19.1% for males and 21.8% for females.[3]
The number of overweight and obese adults increased from 4.6 million in 1989–90 to 5.4 million in 1995, 6.6 million in 2001 and 7.4 million in 2004–05.[5] Approximately 25% of children are overweight or obese, up from an estimated 5% in the 1960s.[6, 7] The mean body mass index (BMI) at which Australians enter adulthood has been gradually increasing.[8] Over the past 20 years, the average weight of Australian adults increased by around 0.5 to 1kg per year, attributable to a mean energy imbalance of around 100 kcal per day.[148]

1Height and weight data may be collected in surveys as measured (by interviewers) or self-reported data. Rates of overweight and obesity based on self-reported data are likely to be underestimates of the true rates (as people tend to overestimate their height and underestimate their weight, leading to an underestimate of BMI) and should not be directly compared with rates based on measured data.[2].

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