Parts of regional New South Wales have the highest obesity rates in the nation with more than 42% of the population obese - three times the rate of those living in the wealthy suburbs of Perth, Sydney and Melbourne.
Ahead of World Obesity Day, the Australian Health Tracker by Area shows the rate of obesity varies dramatically across the country and highlights the impact of where people live and wealth on people’s health.
The latest data shows the national obesity rate has risen 27% over the past 10 years with almost a third of Australians obese, placing them at much higher risk of diabetes, some cancers, heart disease, arthritis and dementia.
Professor Rosemary Calder from health policy think tank, the Mitchell Institute at Victoria University said action was needed to focus prevention strategies in the most disadvantaged communities.
“We have spent too long as a nation expecting individuals to be able to change their behaviour to reduce their weight,” Professor Calder said. “However, the evidence is very clear that this has little chance of success without a very strong focus on the environmental factors in the places where we live that contribute to poor nutrition and inactivity.
Professor Calder said:
It was no surprise that Australia’s wealthy city suburbs have the lowest rates of obesity.
“These suburbs are usually green and leafy, with more space dedicated to parks, gardens and recreational facilities. They often are well serviced by public transport, bike paths and are relatively close to where people work which enables people to be physically active in their commute to work, rather than rely on the car. They have a greater density of shops selling fresh fruit and veg, greater competition promoting lower prices for healthy foods and fewer fast food outlets,” Professor Calder said.
People in our wealthier suburbs tend to have better access to information about healthy diet and the financial means to access healthy food options and enjoyable physical activity.
Low socio-economic communities are often new suburbs and regional areas that are at substantial distances from metropolitan centres and other communities. These places seldom have the physical infrastructure that supports healthy lifestyles.
Two thirds of Australians are now overweight or obese.
Professor Calder said policy change was needed at every level government.
“The establishment of a national preventive health taskforce by the Federal Minister for Health is an essential first step in the right direction. It is vitally important that governments at all levels focus on collectively addressing the impact of where we live on our health.
She said places with the highest rates of obesity, also have much higher rates of smoking, inactivity and chronic illness and are largely low-socioeconomic communities, highlighting the impact of poverty on health.
“Local governments are critical to local planning and the creation of healthy and active spaces for their residents. However, they are often hampered by lack of funding and regulatory power,” she said.
Professor Calder said more broadly there was a need to look at our policies around sugar and salt content in processed foods. The UK, for example, has successfully supported significant reductions in the salt content in processed food, a major contributor to poor health, particularly in low socio-economic communities.
The Australian Health Policy Collaboration, led by the Mitchell Institute, has a 2025 target of Australia’s adult obesity rate to be 24.6%.
National data (2017-18)
- 31.3% are obese, rising from 24.6% in 2007-08 (27% increase)
- 67% are overweight or obese, rising from 61.1% in 2007-08
- 52.7% inactive or not getting enough exercise
- 8.4% of children are obese
- 26.2% of children are overweight or obese and the figure is rising
- 70.8% are inactive or not doing enough exercises
- 91% are inactive or not doing enough exercises
- 7.9% are obese
- 23.2% are overweight or obese
Per cent of the community that is overweight & obese by council area*
- Nedlands, WA – 12.8
- Claremont, WA – 14
- Ku-ring-gai, NSW – 14.2
- Mosman Park, WA – 14.3
- Willoughby, NSW – 14.4
- Cambridge, WA – 14.4
Least overweight or obese
- Perth, WA – 47
- Melbourne, Vic – 48.8
- Nedlands, WA – 48.5
- Claremont, WA – 49.5
- Cottesloe, WA – 49.8
- Mosman Park, WA – 49.8
- Wellington, NSW – 43.9
- Katherine, NT – 43.3
- Lachlan, NSW – 42.5
- Forbes, NSW – 42.5
- Blayney, NSW – 42.6
Most overweight or obese
- Katherine, NT – 77.8
- Murrumbidgee, NSW – 77.3
- Carrathool, NSW – 77.2
- Lachlan, NSW – 77.1
- Forbes, NSW – 77
Full data by location
*Data by area is the latest publicly available data from 2014-15 while national average overweight and obesity is from 2017-18. Data is sourced from: the ABS, Australian Health Survey 2017-18, 2014-15, 2011-12.