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Anne Rahilly
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As many as 11 million Australian adults, 63% of the population are overweight according to a new global study published in The Lancet today.

Australian children are also getting bigger with nearly 24% either obese or overweight, up from 16% in 1980. The adult rate in 1980 was 49%.

The study found that obesity in Australasia experienced the largest absolute increase compared to the rest of the world in adult obesity since 1980 (from 16% to 29%) and the single largest increase in adult female obesity (from 17% to 30%) globally.

The study, “Global, regional, and national prevalence of overweight and obesity in children and adults during 1980–2013: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2013,” was conducted by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington.

Alan Lopez, Laureate Professor at the University of Melbourne and co-founder of the Global Burden of Disease study said that being overweight carries significant health risks, and those risks are greatly increased for obese individuals.

“Unlike tobacco control, there is very little evidence that public heath campaigns or industry regulatory mechanisms are yet having an impact. Health authorities across the region need to take the population health consequences of weight gain much more seriously,” he said.

In Australia, almost half of all overweight women are obese. Obesity rates for women age 20 or older reached 30%, more than quadruple the obesity rates among girls (7%). For boys, obesity prevalence climbed from 7% in childhood and adolescence to 28% in adulthood.

Of the  estimated 11 million Australian adults that are overweight, 5.2 million are obese. More than 68% of the country’s men and 56% of women are overweight or obese. This is the second-largest gender gap in overweight/obesity globally, a phenomenon commonly observed in wealthier regions.

 “In the last three decades, not one country has achieved success in reducing obesity rates, and we expect obesity to rise steadily as incomes rise in low- and middle-income countries in particular, unless urgent steps are taken to address this public health crisis,” said Professor Rob Moodie from the School of Population and Global Health at the University of Melbourne.

While the percentage of people worldwide who are either overweight or obese has risen substantially over the last 30 years, there have been marked variations across regions and countries.

In developed countries, increases in obesity that began in the 1980s and accelerated from 1992 to 2002 have slowed since 2006. Conversely, in developing countries, where almost two-thirds of the world’s obese people currently live, increases are likely to continue.