Adult obesity rates on the rise in Australia

Adult obesity rates are on the rise and require urgent action from state and federal governments, the COAG Reform Council has warned.

Governments are being urged to tackle the growing problem of obesity, as a new report finds increased number of Australian adults suffering from the condition.

The Council of Australian Governments (COAG) Reform Council will on Friday release its fourth report on the National Healthcare Agreement, showing an improvement in some areas such as smoking rates, but other areas deteriorating.

Adult obesity rates continue their climb, rising from 24.4 per cent of Australians to 28.1 per cent over the four years to 2012.

The result was higher than the OECD average in 2010 of 22.2 per cent.


Nearly two in three, or 63.2 per cent, of Australian adults were considered either overweight or obese, with more men than women falling into that category.

In addition, 7.6 per cent of children were considered obese, and an additional 17.7 per cent overweight.

“It’s concerning to see that so many Australians are overweight or obese, but the fact that the situation is getting worse suggests that it needs urgent attention from our governments to prevent flow-on effects across the system,” council chair John Brumby said.

“The news here is something that should be of concern to us all, and concern to policy makers across Australia.


“We all know that obesity is contributing to the burden of chronic disease in Australia. It affects individuals, it affects workplaces, it affects productivity.”

Mr Brumby was much happier with what he called the “stand out result” – a continued drop in the national daily smoking rate in 2011-12 to 16.5 per cent.

Down from 19.1 per cent in 2007-08 and from 28.4 per cent in 1989-90, the smoking rate is inching closer to the COAG target of 10 per cent by 2018.

“Australia’s progress in reducing tobacco consumption in the last two decades has in fact been described by the OECD as nothing short of remarkable,” said Mr Brumby, who will launch the report at an Australian Medical Association (AMA) conference in Sydney.

Consumption of what was deemed “risky” levels of alcohol – two standard drinks a day – also fell 1.5 percentage points over the past four years to 19.4 per cent.

Turning to the health system, the council reported a fall in potentially preventable hospitalisations of 7.3 per cent over four years.


Emergency department waiting times improved, with the number of patients seen within national benchmarks increasing from 67 per cent to 70 per cent since 2007-08.

However, national elective surgery waiting time rose by two days to a median of 36 days.


There was also a significant jump in the numbers of people having to wait 24 hours or longer for an urgent appointment to see a GP – up from 14.3 per cent in 2009 to 24.4 per cent in 2011-12.

The Consumers Health Forum pointed to figures in the report showing those in disadvantaged areas waited longer for elective surgery than the least disadvantaged.

The forum said it highlighted the emergence of a two-tiered health system in Australia.