Insight: Tackling Australia's rising obesity rate


Australians are getting fatter. And experts say diets just don’t work in the long term. But should we be looking at this debate differently? And are people resorting to surgery too soon? Tonight's Insight at 8.30PM on SBS ONE.

Kate Finlay, 37, says she tried everything to lose weight before resorting to surgery — from pills bought on the internet, to the Beyoncé lemon detox diet.

“[I tried] Jenny Craig, Lite and Easy, tablets that Oprah recommended…. I took to my stomach with a scalpel. I used to throw up every meal,” she tells SBS's Insight.

After going through extreme lengths to lose weight, Kate underwent lap band surgery and lost 52kg within months.

“I thought I was king of the world,” she says. “I didn't feel great because I was healthy, I felt great because I was finally wearing normal person clothes and people actually started to come to me and talk to me.”

But soon after, things started to go wrong. She was vomiting daily, was constipated for up to 20 days at a time and had liver failure.

“My lap band eroded into my stomach so it was no longer living on the outside of my stomach, it was living on the inside of my stomach.”

Kate says she's angry that she wasn't given enough information about the side effects of her surgery.

“Fat people that dislike themselves – not fat people who like themselves – we're scared, we're lonely, we're depressed so we're vulnerable,” she says. “You're so misinformed, you are sold a product.”

[OPINION PIECE: Is lapband surgery worse than obesity? By Kate Finlay]

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, almost one in three Australians are obese. That's over 5.5 million people. Alarmingly, the AIHW also estimates that one in four kids are overweight or obese.

A 2010 study published in the Medical Journal of Australia puts the direct cost of overweight and obese people at $21 billion a year. The National Health and Medical Research Council says if current trends continue, 83 per cent of men and 75 per cent will be obese in ten years.


And while surgery is not risk-free, some experts believe that bariatric surgery is the most effective way to treat the rising rates of obesity.

“Currently, the only durably effective treatment for obesity is bariatric surgery,” says Dr Wendy Brown, the director of the Centre for Obesity Research and Education.

She says that only 3 per cent of people can keep weight off because they can't stop feeling hungry.

“Your body defends the fat mass vigorously, the body likes you carrying weight because in an evolutionary sense it's protective,” Dr Brown tells Insight.

“What [bariatric surgery] does is help people control their hunger and lets the individual, it empowers the individual to control their weight. They still have to make healthy food choices, they still have to exercise, they're still really in control.”


WATCH: Breanna on why she had lap band surgery at 20


But fat activists argue that glorifying and promoting weight loss at all costs does more harm than good.

Instead, public attitudes towards obese and overweight people need to change, and the culture of 'fat shaming' needs to stop. They say being fat doesn't equate to being lazy or a failure, and people can be healthy regardless of their size.

“I think we live in a really fat phobic culture and we're told all of the time that fat people are sick, a drain on the system, that we're disgusting, that we're unlovable,” says fat activist, Jackie Wykes on Insight.

“I fully support anybody's decision to make whatever choices they want to go about their body and I certainly understand why people want to lose weight,” she says.

“But I think it's worth examining the culture that makes that such an attractive choice.”

How should we tackle Australia's rising obesity rates? Should we be looking at this debate differently? Catch the Insight forum tonight at 8.30PM on SBS ONE. The program will also be streamed live here.

Join the online discussion by using the #insightsbs hashtag on Twitter or by commenting on Insight's Facebook page.



Can you be fat and healthy? Are people resorting to surgery too soon? The Insight discussion gets heated as guests debate the issue.

Source SBS

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