Junkfood Science: Australia’s fat bomb is defused

June 25, 2008

Australia’s fat bomb is defused

Far from a crisis of poor health in Australia from a ticking FAT BOMB, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare just released the country’s latest flagship health statistics report, Australia Health 2008. Australians have the second highest life expectancy in the world — 81.4 years — second only to Japan. And death rates are falling for the leading causes of death and health concerns, including cancer, heart disease, strokes, injury and asthma.

The population is aging. Men at age 65 years, can now expect to live to about 83 years and women to age 86.

Even so, deaths from chronic diseases of aging, popularly attributed to obesity or lifestyles, continue to drop.

Children are being vaccinated in very high numbers — more than 90% are fully covered — and rates continue to increase. Death rates among children and young people have been cut in half in the past two decades, with fewer injury-related deaths. Illicit drug use continues to fall. Smoking rates are among the lowest for OECD countries and continue to drop.

The percentages of Australians whose BMIs, calculated from their heights and weights, fall into the “obese” category is 19% for men and 17% for women. Those labeled “overweight” are 41% and 25%, respectively. A total of 50.1% of Australians’ BMIs fall into the “overweight” or “obese” categories. This compares to countries in the UK (51.1%), Oceania (59.3%), northwest Europe (50.9%), and southern and eastern Europe (59.5%).

Far from any evidence that body sizes are the major health problem facing the country, the report highlights health disparities among those of social and economic disadvantage. It turns attention to these priorities. Life expectancy among Indigenous persons, while continuing to rise, is lower than the general population. They are exposed to higher rates of poverty, social disadvantage and violence. The prevalence of age-adjusted chronic health conditions is lower than the general population for cardiovascular circulatory problems (12% versus 18%), endocrine and metabolic diseases (9% versus 12%), arthritis (9% versus 15%), eye/sight problems (30% versus 52%), and digestive diseases (4% versus 7%). But they are nearly twice as likely to die, with the leading causes of morbidity and mortality including injuries, cardiovascular-circulatory conditions, diabetes and cancers. Higher death rates are in remote, rural areas, compared to metropolitan areas, influenced by fewer healthcare services available.

As one Australian reader wrote about the cognitive disconnect pervading media and public health messages, with incessant warnings that everyone is going to die any minute because they’re too fat, while they’re the second-longest-lived on earth! “Can everyone please tone down the hype and scaremongering now? Our kids - and we - need support and good medicine.”

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