Obesity is the second leading contributor to Australia's burden of disease


There are calls for government action on a national obesity prevention strategy to include public education campaigns in addition to protecting children from junk food marketing.

Video above: How rising obesity is lowering life expectancy

Smoking, diet and weight are responsible for about 38 per cent of illness and premature deaths in Australia, according to a new study.

The Australian Burden of Disease Study 2015, published on Thursday, examines the key contributors when it comes to more than 200 types of disease or injury, including cancer, cardiovascular diseases, musculoskeletal conditions, mental and substance use disorders, between 2003 and 2015.

It found the five leading risk factors for those diseases were tobacco use, obesity, dietary risks, high blood pressure and high blood plasma glucose (including diabetes).

A fast food restaurant in Brisbane.
A fast food restaurant in Brisbane.

But 38 per cent of the total disease burden - a measure of a population's total combined years of healthy life lost from disease and injury - could be prevented by reducing those lifestyle factors such as smoking, poor diet and obesity, according to the report.

Australia's Obesity Policy Coalition executive manager Jane Martin said the figures showed Australia needs to get serious about tackling obesity.

“It is likely to continue to worsen unless we take action now. Given the major health and financial costs on the nation, addressing obesity should be an important focus for the government,” Ms Martin said.

“With 67 per cent of adults and 24 per cent of children overweight or obese, weight-related health issues are one of the biggest public health challenges facing this country.

"We need a long-term funded national obesity prevention strategy that includes policies and regulation to protect children from junk food marketing, as well as public education campaigns.”

In 2015, tobacco was responsible for 9.3 per cent of Australia's burden of disease, while obesity and dietary risks contributed to 8.4 per cent and 7.3 per cent respectively.

Overall, the report found an 11 per cent decrease in Australia's total disease burden from 2003 to 2015.

Ms Martin said that tax and pricing measures were a crucial part of any national obesity strategy and has called on the government to institute a 20 per cent health levy on sugary drinks.

“Sugary drinks are the largest contributor of added sugar in Australians’ diets. We know that price can deter people from these cheap, unhealthy drinks," she said.

AAP/Dan Peled

“A health levy would also help recover some of the significant costs associated with obesity and the increasing burden this puts on our public health care system."


“Unhealthy diets are having a huge impact on Australians’ health with 35 per cent of the energy adults consume every day coming from highly processed foods,” Ms Martin said. 

Thursday's statistics follow the announcement yesterday by Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt to invest in a national illness prevention strategy.

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