World Obesity Day - The Prevalence of Obesity

World Obesity Day - The Prevalence of Obesity

On the eve of World Obesity Day, it is only fitting that we look at the World Population Review report which was released on 18th February, 2020. This publication reported on the prevalence of obesity as a proportion of the total population. How did Australia fair in this league table?

Rank in the world 1st: American Samoa with 74.6% of the population living with obesity

  • Obesity ranking in the world
    (Defined as BMI ≥ 30)
  • Country
  • % of the country's population
  • 1
  • American Samoa
  • 74.6
  • 14
  • Kuwait
  • 38
  • 16
  • United States of America
  • 36
  • 33
  • New Zealand
  • 30.8
  • 39
  • Canada
  • 29.4
  • 41
  • Australia
  • 29
  • 49
  • United Kingdom
  • 27.8
  • 210
  • Vietnam
  • 2.1

Well it is evident that Australia is up there with the other “developed” countries of the world. This is one time we would prefer to be towards the bottom of the league table.

Obesity has been a national health priority since 2008(a), however the prevalence of obesity is still increasing. Currently 1 in 4 Australian school aged children (6-17yo) and 2 in 3 Australian adults are living with overweight or obesity. Of concern is that the number has doubled in the last 10 years, and if this rate continues, 3 in 4 of the Australian population will have overweight or obesity by 2030(b).

(a)Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Improving Australia’s burden of disease (including references to National Health Priority Areas). Canberra: AIHW, 2018. Available at aspx [Accessed 23 January 2019].

[1] 4364.0.55.001 - Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) National Health Survey: First Results, 2017-18 (released 2 February 2019)

[1] ABS National Health Surveys, ABS 4719.0 – Overweight and Obesity in Adults, Australia, 2004-05, ABS 4842.0.55.0012007 Overweight and Obesity in Adults in Australia: A Snapshot, Additional projections calculated by Queensland Department of Health

[1] Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2018. Australia’s health 2018. Australia’s health series no. 16. AUS 221. Canberra.

[1] WHO, Overweight and Obesity Accessed 26 September 2019

(b) Simons J and M J Aboelata. A System of Prevention: applying a systems approach to public health. 2019 May 12:1524839919849025. doi: 10.1177/1524839919849025. [Epub ahead of print, accessed 10 June 2019]

In 2018, the Senate Enquiry into Obesity led by the Select Committee made a series of recommendations, including the formation of a National Obesity Taskforce. During 2019, a series of consultations were undertaken via community forums which included people with the lived experience, community groups, researchers and clinicians. The information gathered will help inform the COAG [Council Of Australian Governments] Health Council later this year.

So how do people with obesity present?

What's interesting about obesity is that it affects people in different ways:

  1. some will develop metabolic complications of obesity eg diabetes, or infertility (PCOS in women or testosterone deficiency in men)
  2. others will develop functional complications: premature wear & tear osteoarthritis of their weight bearing joints; inability to put shoes and socks on or clip their toenails
  3. others the psychological complications of obesity: depression, anxiety, social exclusion due to years of bullying/ discrimination etc

However one thing they all have in common, is that even a 5-10 % weight loss can improve such conditions, with some diseases requiring more significant amounts of weight loss to see greater improvements or possible remission.

  • The University of New South Wales
  • Obesity Australia
  • ANZMOSS – Australian & New Zealand Metabolic and Obesity Surgery Society
  • Australian and New Zealand Obesity Society
  • Royal Australian College of General Practitioners
  • Care Specialist
  • Strategic  Centre for Obesity Professional Education
  • World Obesity