Why Australians are getting larger

| April 15, 2015

Australia’s obesity rates are climbing faster than anywhere else in the world. Professor Manny Noakes says people who want to lose weight need to take action in order to prolong their life and decrease the likelihood of developing conditions associated with being overweight.

Despite Australia’s reputation for athleticism and outdoor living, we are currently the 5th largest nation on the planet, behind only Tonga, the US, Samoa and Kuwait.

Not only that, obesity rates in Australia have climbed faster than anywhere else in the world. According to a study in The Lancet, since 1980 our obesity rates have risen from 16 per cent to 29 per cent, the largest increase of any country globally.

A complex interplay between genetics and the environment has contributed to our ever-increasing girth since the 1980s. Some of these environmental factors include:

Oversized meal portions: What we are eating is served in such large portions, it makes it harder for people to be satisfied with less.

Overeating indulgence foods: For many people, as many as 35 per cent of their daily calories come from indulgence foods full of fat and sugar, like pastries and soft drinks.

Eating all day long: Convenient foods such as those sold through fast food outlets mean late night snacking is increasing.

Unstructured daily eating: Many of us don’t have set meal times, as they do in other countries with less obesity like France, where eating patterns are more uniform.

Eating mindlessly: We are less focused on what we’re eating – people eat while they’re walking, at the cinema or when sitting in front of the computer – and this contributes to us feeling less satisfied.

Sedentary living: Being sedentary at work reduces our requirement for food. But few of us modify our eating behaviours to match. Calories in far exceed calories out.

The health risks of being overweight: Being overweight or obese carries a real risk of poor physical and mental health. For example, depression is nearly twice as common in persons who are obese than those of a normal weight.

A report by Obesity Australia called No Time to Weight identified these common conditions associated with weight gain:

  • depression and cognitive impairment (the prevalence of mood and anxiety disorders increases with BMI)
  • obstructive sleep apnoea (70% of obese individuals endure poor sleep)
  • type 2 diabetes (half of the obese population develop this complex condition)
  • cardiovascular disease (excess weight may be responsible for hypertension in 78% of men and 65% of women)
  • kidney disease (hypertension and diabetes also contribute to renal dysfunction)
  • cancer (in particular of the colon, breast and kidney)
  • non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (69% to 100% of NAFLD patients are obese)
  • osteorthritis (due to increased force exerted on joints)

All these conditions inevitably result in a poor quality of life as well as a shorter one.

Individuals who want to improve their health and lose weight need to take action in order to prolong their life and decrease the likelihood of developing the common conditions associated with being overweight.

A wide body of research has proven that a higher protein diet combined with low GI carbohydrates can lead to better weight loss maintenance. Low GI refers to certain types of carbohydrate foods that your body digests slowly, keeping you feeling fuller for longer.

Programs that include low GI foods are designed to assist with weight loss and maintaining a healthy weight, while also reducing disease risks and encourage sustainable eating behaviours



  1. Max Thomas

    Max Thomas

    April 23, 2015 at 1:44 am

    Why we’re getting larger

    Thanks for the blog Professor Manny Noakes. Your reference to "our ever-increasing girth" reminded me of a US research finding that the correlation between waist circumference and the 'diseases of obesity' was not as strong as that between (lack of) exercise and the same diseases. This of course does not diminish the importance of obesity as a major contributing factor, but it may suggest that appropriate and monitored exercise should receive more emphasis.