Better health and ageing for all Australians

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Performance Framework - 2010

2.26 Prevalence of overweight and obesity

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Why is it important?:

Overweight and obesity is a global health problem. Being overweight or obese is a risk factor linked to various chronic diseases. The Australian Burden of Disease study found that overweight accounted for approximately 4% of the total burden of disease (Mathers et al. 1999). The Burden of Disease and Injury in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples 2003 (Vos et al. 2007), attributed 11% of the total burden of disease in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population to high body mass.

Obesity is closely associated with risk factors for the main causes of morbidity and mortality amongst Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples (NHMRC 2000). Obesity is associated with a higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. It is the second leading cause of burden among the 11 risk factors examined. Its impact is largely through diabetes, which is responsible for 49% of the burden attributed to high body mass, and ischaemic heart disease (40%). Obesity is estimated to contribute 16% of the health gap between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the total Australian population (Vos et al. 2007).

Findings:

The proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 18 years and over and living in non-remote areas who were overweight or obese increased steadily from 51% in 1995 to 60% in 2004–05. There was little change between 2001 and 2004–05 in remote areas and for the total Indigenous population (59% and 60% respectively). Obesity levels steadily increased with age. A higher proportion of Indigenous males were overweight (34%) compared with Indigenous females (24%), however, Indigenous females were more likely to be obese than Indigenous males (34% compared with 28%).
After adjusting for differences in the age structure of the two populations Indigenous Australian adults were twice as likely to be obese as non-Indigenous Australian adults.

There are no current data on the prevalence of overweight and obesity among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.

Results from the 2004–05 NATSIHS show higher proportions of Torres Strait Islanders in the overweight or obese categories than in the Aboriginal population (61% versus 56%) (ABS 2006a).

Implications:

Given the health risks associated with being obese or overweight, the situation for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples requires urgent attention. It is second only to tobacco consumption in terms of contribution of modifiable risk factors to the health gap experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

In the first instance, arresting the increase in proportions of people who are overweight or obese is a reasonable target. As Australia is ranked as one of the ‘fattest developed nations’ (DoHA 2008a), this is one measure where it may be unwise to benchmark targets against the non-Indigenous population for the longer term.

While genetic factors account for a proportion of overweight and obesity within the Australian population, poor eating patterns and lack of physical activity are regarded as the main causes (AMA 2005). Nutrition and physical activity are therefore the areas on which policies should focus. The NSFATSIH proposes partnerships with (a) food wholesalers, retailers and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to ensure accessibility and affordability of healthy food choices; (b) media, health and education sectors to encourage understanding of nutrition and healthy food choices; and (c) state and territory governments, local councils, private sponsors and sports and recreation bodies to encourage the involvement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in sport and recreational activities.

A specific focus is also needed for Torres Strait Islander peoples, particularly those living in the Torres Strait Island area.

Taking Preventative Action, the Australian Government’s response to the 2009 National Preventative Health Strategy, committed to ensuring that actions taken to address Australia’s obesity problem include specific initiatives to address obesity in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population. Actions will include whole of community education and social marketing and communication strategies for nutrition. Monitoring of this measure should be in conjunction with measures 2.22 Level of physical activity and 2.23 Dietary behaviours.

The National Partnership Agreement on Closing the Gap in Indigenous Health Outcomes comprises a package of health reforms that include a focus on preventive health and primary health care. For example, this package of work includes community education activities to address chronic disease risk factors, such as poor nutrition and lack of exercise. Other examples include initiatives that will improve specialist care for Indigenous Australians with chronic diseases, new programs which support primary care providers to better coordinate chronic disease management and increased access to specialist and multidisciplinary team care (see Tier 3).

Figure 133 – Proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults who were overweight or obese, 1995, 2001 and 2004–05


Figure 133 – Proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults who were overweight or obese, 1995, 2001 and 2004–05
Source: ABS and AIHW analysis 1995 and 2004–05 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey and 2001 National Health Survey (Indigenous supplement)
Text description of figure 133 (TXT 1KB)

Figure 134 – Proportion of adults who were overweight or obese, by Indigenous status and age, 2004–05


Figure 134 – Proportion of adults who were overweight or obese, by Indigenous status and age, 2004–05
Source: ABS & AIHW analysis of 2004–05 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey and 2004–05 National Health Survey
Text description of figure 134 (TXT 1KB)

Figure 135 – Proportion of adults (age-standardised) by weight characteristics and Indigenous status, 2004–05


Figure 135 – Proportion of adults (age-standardised) by weight characteristics and Indigenous status, 2004–05
Source: ABS & AIHW analysis of 2004–05 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey and 2004–05 National Health Survey
Text description of figure 135 (TXT 1KB)

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