Making Australia a Lighter Place

A lot has been said, researched and written about the problems associated with excess body weight. There are a myriad of health issues, ranging from cardiovascular disease to diabetes, linked to being overweight and obese.

Personally I always thought the public alarm was a bit heavy-handed and that, as a nation, we were in pretty good shape. I now have to confess that I have changed my mind.

Over the past week I have been making an effort to note the number of people I see who could be considered overweight. It turns out most of us are heavier than we should be. Not dangerously or morbidly so, but it is clear almost all of us could afford to lose a few kilos.

Of course, non-scientific studies such as this should begin at home and upon honest reflection, I am in exactly the same boat as too many other Australians.

Too much food and too little exercise has resulted in too much weight. That’s why Australia ranks as one of the fattest nations in the world with more than 60 per cent of us identified as being overweight.

I consider myself to be a healthy individual. I don’t smoke, I drink alcohol in moderation and try to exercise most days. Indeed, exercise has been a key part of my life since I was a full-time athlete back in the late ‘80s. I even wrote a children’s book about staying fit and healthy, yet I now find myself heavier than I should be.

Under those circumstances it is easy to understand how someone who hasn’t been so committed to maintaining a healthy lifestyle finds themselves in a dangerously unhealthy position.

The risk attached to such a circumstance is not just to the individual concerned. Excess personal weight is a massive additional cost for our communities in terms of health costs and loss of productivity.

But there are other costs that are seldom considered when discussing Australia’s great weight crisis. Every obesity-associated premature death is a mother, father or grandparent that is no longer around to offer support, guidance and advice to the next generation. There are also psychological consequences attached to being overweight with obesity linked to depression and anxiety. This is particularly true of young women, many of whom have media-led unrealistic body image expectations.

However, unlike many other national problems, the answer to the weight crisis is a pretty simple one. If you are overweight, the chances are it is not because of some genetic disorder or thyroid problem. It is more likely to be a result of fast food and lack of exercise. Enjoy less of the former and more of the latter and the problem (and the kilograms) will often disappear.

Unlike in generations past, being fat is not the sign of a prosperous life, it is more likely to be a sign of a shorter one and it is about time we spoke plainly about it.

Rather than making excuses for our accumulation of lard, we need to recognise that poor individual choices are most often the cause and society shouldn’t be expected to pick up the tab.

Starting today, I’ll be doing my bit to make Australia a lighter place. If you need to, I hope you will do the same.

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