June 20, 2008

Australia Competes for ‘World’s Fattest Nation’ Title

Experts say Australia is well on track to becoming the world's fattest nation. And while it is still under question as to whether the country has overtaken the United States and small Pacific countries as the fattest, experts say obesity "down under" is growing.

A study by the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute released in Melbourne said that around 4 million Australian adults, or 26 percent of the population, were obese, eclipsing the 25 percent rate in the United States.

"If we ran a fat Olympics we'd be gold medal winners as the fattest people on earth at the moment," said Institute preventative cardiology head Professor Simon Stewart.

Almost 70 percent of men and 60 percent of women aged 45 to 65 were technically overweight or obese, according to the report titled, Australia's Future Fat Bomb.

The study found that in total, 9 million people were too heavy"”almost half the 21 million population"”and 123,000 were at risk of early death over the next 20 years.

According to recent U.S. studies, around 34 percent of Americans are overweight or obese. But the report said Australia had overtaken the U.S. as the fattest nation on the planet.

Still, small Pacific nations top World Health Organization lists, with 94.5 percent of people in tiny Nauru classed as overweight, leading to chronic diabetes problems on the island.

The WHO top five nations for obesity included The Federated States of Micronesia (91.1 percent), the Cook Islands (90.9 percent), Tonga (90.8 percent) and Niue (81.7 percent). The United States came in at number nine, with 74.1 percent overweight or obese.

However, according to the WHO, Australia came in at only 21, behind countries such as New Zealand, Mexico, Argentina, Greece and Kuwait.

The World Health Organization estimates that, in all, there are currently 1.6 billion overweight adults in the world, a number that is expected to grow by 40 percent over the next decade.

Australia may not lead the world, but it does need to take urgent action to address growing obesity and re-think failed health messages, according to Nutrition expert Rosemary Stanton.

Stanton said changes were needed in the processed and fast food industries. "We've got to somehow or other get a message across. We've got to start taking this very seriously, rather than just talking about it."