The Australian Health Policy Collaboration at Victoria University has released Australia’s Health Tracker report for 2016, claiming Australians are one of the most obese people in the world.  The report has given an in-depth view on how lifestyle choices are linked to the health of Australian people.

The Australian population enjoys high-quality health facilities and a high life expectancy. Moreover, being a global leader in tobacco control and infectious disease control, the Australian public health sector is efficiently working to promote healthy practices in the population. However, with the tracker report’s release, the Australian population’s unhealthy practices have come to light.

Amongst the adult population, 71.4% of native aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults are overweight or obese. On the other hand, 63.4% of the non-indigenous adult population is obese.

The reasons behind these astonishingly high statistics have their roots in the increasingly lethargic behavior of Australians. It was found that 44.5% of the adult population fails to meet the recommended requirement of physical activity.

Out of the 34 high-income countries with the highest obesity rates, Australia currently ranks at 30. If eating habits and lifestyles are not changed on a national level, Australia is likely to rank even higher in future.

The report observed the high salt consumption of Australians puts them at an increased risk of hypertension problems. On an average, Australians consume 8.1g of salt which needs to be reduced to 5.7g by 2025. Currently, about 23% of the Australian population suffers from high blood pressure.  Furthermore, about 34.6% of adults have junk food eating habits, 47.8% consume excessive amounts of sugar and 32.8% suffer from high cholesterol problems.  Due to unhealthy eating habits, the prevalence of diabetes in adults aged 25-65 was as high as 4.7%. Additionally, about 26.4% of the population was found to consist of habitual, heavy drinkers.

It was also estimated that one in two Australians develops a chronic disease which includes cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes. Contributing to the leading causes of illness, disability and death in Australia, the high mortality burden is likely to get worse in future if interventions are not carried out. Interestingly, the report claims that one-third of these chronic diseases can be prevented if exposure to risk factors such as smoking, high body mass, alcohol use, physical inactivity and high blood pressure, is minimized. Despite these startling facts, only 1.5% of the total health fund is allocated to preventive medicine.

Following in the older generation’s footsteps, trends among children were found to be no different — about 70.8% of children between the ages of 5 to 11 and as many as 91.5% adolescents between the ages of 12 to 17 were found to lag behind physical activity recommendations. As a result, about 25.6% of Australian children and 29.5% of Australian adolescents are overweight. Complemented by unhealthy eating habits, indigenous young people between the ages of 14 to 18 received 42.9% of their energy intake from junk food, while non-indigenous young people observed a slightly better number of 40.7%. The problem of obesity is alarmingly high in children and young adults which can lead to serious health conditions as they grow up.

The Australian government was subjected to criticism by the Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA) regarding limited budget allocation for the prevention of chronic diseases hours after the release of this report.

PHAA CEO, Michael Moore was extremely disappointed, “A lot of promises were made before the election to fight chronic disease. What we need to see is action from the elected Government as this issue is affecting half of the population. This isn’t about who is right, it’s about doing the right thing for the country and improving the overall health of the Australian people.”

Although the reported trends indicated many practices which need to be abandoned by Australians, some positive trends were also observed. The trends showed that Australian smoked less and were vigilant about regular check-ups for conditions such as bowel and breast cancer. The habit of cigarette smoking and binge drinking was also found to be low amongst young adults. However, admission to emergency rooms due to alcohol injury is on the rise in young women.

Nevertheless, the report is an eye opener for the concerning government authorities and healthcare professionals of the country.

The report went on to set Australia’s chronic disease targets, aimed to be achieved by 2025. In addition to a 25% reduction in mortality due to chronic conditions, the scheme emphasized on reduction in cigarette smoking, drinking, salt/sodium intake, and obesity, improved suicide rates, improved employment rates and increased rates of public participation to bridge gaps in health interventions and practices.