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Australia ‘fifth fattest nation’

Australia is now one of the fattest nations in the developed world, according to a new international report which singles out the country’s sky-rocketing obesity rate.

A report released by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development shows Australia performing well on smoking rates and survival from breast cancer and heart attacks compared with the other 29 OECD nations.

But it was one of the worst performers on obesity, thanks to new statistics showing almost one in every four Australians now has a body mass index (BMI) over 30.

Australia had the fifth highest adult obesity rate, 21.7 per cent, behind the US, 32.2 per cent, Mexico, 30.2 per cent, the UK, 23 per cent, and Greece, 21.9 per cent.

Australians are gaining weight even faster than people in the US, a notoriously fat nation.

“Using consistent measures of obesity over time, the rate of obesity has more than doubled over the past 20 years in the United States, while it has almost tripled in Australia,” states the report, Health at a Glance 2007.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), which supplied the figures to the OECD,  said the obesity problem would trigger increased diabetes  and cardiovascular disease in the future , placing extra stress on the health system.

“Given the time lag between the onset of obesity and subsequent health problems, the growing incidence of obesity in most OECD countries, including Australia, may mean higher health care  costs in the future,” said AIHW spokesperson Louise York.

The nation performed better on other markers of health, winning the fifth lowest daily smoking rate after Sweden, the US, Portugal and Canada.

Australia succeeded in cutting its daily smoking rates in half over the last 20 years, from 35.4 per cent of adults in 1983 to 17.7 per cent in 2004.

It also had one of the lowest death rates among people admitted to hospital with a heart attack – five per cent compared with 25 per cent in Mexico.

Total health spending accounted for 9.5 per cent of GDP in 2004, in line with the OECD average. Health spending as a share of GDP was lower in Australia than in the US and several European countries but higher than Japan, UK and New Zealand.

“A strong rise in pharmaceutical spending has been one of the factors behind the rise in total  health spending in Australia as well as in many other OECD countries,” Ms York said.

 

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