Obesity is an alarming issue in modern Australia that, if not met with adequate strategies, can and will negatively impact the wellbeing of millions. According to ABS figures, in 2012, 62.8% of Australians aged 18 and older were overweight or obese which amounts to 14.3 million people. A report from the Victorian state government found that at current rates where effective intervention has failed, that number will increase to 16.9 million by 2025. Though obesity can be caused by genetic or medical complications, poor lifestyle choices tend to increase this condition’s prevalence in the community. However, by virtue of this choice, we can turn around obesity by alternatively choosing the healthier option. Prevention is key and so healthy choices must start at a young age and encouraged by the whole family.
Generally, when the energy the body takes in is higher than what is used, body fat accumulates. This difference in how much energy the body needs and how much is used is made worse by the consumption of fatty foods as well a reduction in physical activity due to our increasingly sedentary lifestyles. A federal government briefing outlines some associated consequences which include an increased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke and issues with cholesterol and blood pressure. There can also be psychological and social strain with the stigma of obesity and its impact on self-esteem. With this in mind, it is of paramount importance that we all must work together to prevent this condition that is so widespread and dangerous in Australia.
Turning lifestyle caused obesity around comes down to 2 main things: healthy eating and physical activity. Our fast past living placed importance on highly processed, cheap and convenient food, which are very nutrient poor and incredibly high in fat. We tend to consume more of this kind of food and not enough of nutrient rich food. The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating recommends that we eat a variety of vegetables (the more colourful, the better!), legumes/beans, whole fruits, wholegrain cereals, fish, poultry, seafood, nuts and seeds. We should also aim to eat less food that is high in saturated fat and added sugars and salts such as fast food, fruit juice (like the ones you get in poppers) and refined grains such as white bread, rice and pasta.
Harvard’s School of Public Health also recommend the practise of mindful eating where you think about why you feel hungry. If you are actually hungry, try for the healthier option. If you are not really hungry, and you wish to eat for other reasons, try to do something else to get your mind off the issue or, eat some fruit instead. They also stressed the importance of eating breakfast because skipping this meal can lead to overeating later in the day. Other strategies include creating a meal plan with your family where you plan out healthy meals in advance and cook them together. This ensures that habit of healthy eating is a bonding and learning experience as well. When you are actually eating, try to eat slower because this allows your brain to process how full you actually are.
Physical activity is the other half of the strategy to combat obesity. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that families should try to be physically active together. It can be as simple as an afternoon walk or as structured as learning a sport together (like Martial Arts). You should also aim to reduce screen time that isn’t related to work or homework to 2 or less hours a day. Substitute the time you would have spent facing a screen with being physically active instead. Harvard’s School of Public Health suggests an hour or more of physical activity a day which can be done at once or broken up into 10+ minute bursts. Remember, physical activity is not just going to the gym or having a run, it can be as simple as taking your bike to work or school.
Preventing obesity is the key to defeating it. Making a habit out of healthy eating and physical activity will surely turn around such a prevalent condition in Australia but it cannot start without small steps. Have a banana instead of a chocolate bar or take the stairs instead of the elevator. Once those first hurdles are overcome, keep progressing and track it by keeping a health journal. If you have a family, instil in your children these habits of healthy eating and physical activity because lifestyle choices start at childhood and if you show them the right ones now, you will give them positive habits to last them a lifetime.