Healthy Weight for Adults and Older Australians


Page last updated: 21 July 2011

Australia is ranked as one of the most overweight developed nations. The rate of overweight and obesity among Australian adults (over 18 years) has doubled over the past two decades. Obesity results in a range of diseases and conditions including cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes, which place huge burdens on individuals, families and the wider community. Obesity and its associated illnesses are estimated to cost health services $1.2 billion a year and the cost continues to rise dramatically.

Australia’s combined rate of overweight and obesity is 62 per cent for men and 45 per cent for women1.

Whilst all ages, sexes and social groups are affected, overweight and obesity are more prevalent among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, women in lower socioeconomic groups and women living in remote areas. Young women are gaining weight faster than any other group.

In May 2004, the World Health Organization endorsed the Global Strategy on Diet and Physical Activity and Health. Australia took a lead role in developing and brokering the Global Strategy.
The Global Strategy has four main objectives:

  • to reduce the risk of factors for non-communicable diseases that stem from unhealthy diets and physical inactivity;
  • to increase the overall awareness and understanding of the influences of diet and physical activity on health;
  • to encourage the development, strengthening and implementation of global, regional, national and community policies and action plans to improve diets and increase physical activity that are sustainable, comprehensive, and actively engage all sectors, including civil society, the private sector and the media;
  • to monitor scientific data and key influences on diet and physical activity, to support research and evaluation; and
  • strengthen the human resources needed in this domain to enhance and sustain health.
In 2003, Australian Health Ministers established the National Obesity Taskforce, to develop a national action agenda for tackling overweight and obesity in Australia. The Taskforce, which represents all jurisdictions, focused its attention on children and adolescents in an effort to enable healthy eating and active living, with the intent that healthier ways of living will be carried into adulthood and supported by healthier environments.

In November 2003, Australian Health Ministers endorsed Healthy Weight 2008: Australia’s Future, the national action agenda for children and young people and their families to address the challenges of overweight and obesity in children aged 0–18 years and their families.

In July 2004, Australian Health Ministers requested the National Obesity Taskforce to review the evidence for actions to reduce overweight and obesity in adults and older Australians and to develop a national action agenda of potential interventions similar to Healthy Weight 2008.

This Agenda presents a range of actions which contribute to addressing overweight and obesity for Australian adults. The range of factors contributing to the problem means that no single action has the potential to reverse the trend. Rather, a combination of actions will be essential. This Agenda requires action across all jurisdictions, multiple portfolios, communities, sectors and industry.

Many of the actions proposed in this Agenda are consistent with, and overlap, actions described in other National and State frameworks, plans and strategies. This will reinforce the common goals and pathways for promoting good nutrition, physical activity, healthy weight and preventing chronic disease.

The Agenda has been applied to the whole adult population as well as each of the priority population groups. It does not apply to adults whose health could be compromised by reducing weight, for example frail, older Australians.

1 ABS national Health Survey: Summary of Results 4364.0 2004-05. Canberra (derived from self reported height and weight)