Obesity Rate In Australia & Known Medications

Obesity rates in Australia

Obesity is now recognised globally as a chronic condition that significantly impacts public health, eclipsing undernutrition and infectious diseases as a predominant contributor to ill health. Characterised by an excessive accumulation of body fat, obesity is intricately linked with various serious health conditions, including diabetes mellitus, heart disease, certain cancers, and respiratory complications. 

Modern lifestyles, featuring high-energy food intake and minimal physical activity, exacerbate this issue, making obesity a critical concern worldwide. As it transcends mere cosmetic concerns, addressing obesity requires a comprehensive understanding and strategic public health response to curb its rising prevalence and associated health burdens.

Understanding Obesity And The Causes

Root causes of obesity and obese
Root causes of obesity

Obesity is defined as an excessive accumulation of body fat to the extent that it may have a negative effect on health. Clinically, it is typically measured by Body Mass Index (BMI), where a BMI of 30 kg/m² or greater is classified as obese.

The main causes of obesity can be categorised into several key areas:

Genetic Susceptibility
Individuals can have genetic predispositions that affect their body weight regulation, metabolism, and fat storage. Certain genetic markers and conditions can make one more susceptible to becoming obese when exposed to the right (or wrong) environmental conditions.

Dietary Factors
The consumption of high-calorie, nutrient-poor foods that are high in fats and sugars plays a significant role in weight gain. Modern diets have shifted towards higher intake of processed foods and sugary drinks, contributing significantly to excess caloric intake.

Physical Inactivity
A sedentary lifestyle is a major contributor to obesity. With increasing urbanisation and changes in work environments, more people are engaged in jobs that require little physical activity, coupled with leisure time that often involves prolonged periods of inactivity.

Socioeconomic Factors
Socioeconomic factors significantly influence the incidence of obesity through various interconnected mechanisms. Individuals from lower socioeconomic backgrounds often face restricted access to healthy and affordable food options, leading them to rely on cheaper, high-calorie foods that are nutrient-poor.

Additionally, educational level plays a crucial role; lower educational attainment is linked to reduced health literacy, which affects people’s ability to make informed dietary choices and understand the implications of poor eating habits. Employment status and the nature of one’s work can also contribute to obesity. Jobs that pay less are often less physically demanding or more sedentary, which decreases overall physical activity, compounding the risk of obesity.

Collectively, these factors create a complex web where lower socioeconomic status is associated with higher instances of obesity, exacerbated by environmental and lifestyle constraints that make healthier choices less accessible.

Psychological Factors
Psychological factors play a crucial role in the development and persistence of obesity. These factors can influence eating behaviours, emotional regulation, and overall mental health, which in turn impacts weight management. 

Metabolic Factors
Metabolic rates vary among individuals, which can influence how easily one gains or loses weight. Factors like insulin resistance, which is often seen in obesity, can exacerbate weight gain due to the body’s inefficiency in handling blood sugar levels.

Environmental Influences
The environment can promote obesity through factors such as marketing of unhealthy foods, lack of safe places for physical activity, and societal norms that favour eating out and consuming fast food.

Gut Microbiome
Emerging research suggests that the gut microbiome might influence fat accumulation and how dietary fats are metabolised, potentially impacting obesity.

The gut microbiome significantly influences obesity through various mechanisms. It can enhance the body’s ability to extract energy from food, particularly through the action of bacteria that break down dietary fibres into short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). These fatty acids provide additional energy, potentially leading to weight gain if they exceed the body’s energy expenditure. Moreover, the microbiome can affect fat metabolism and storage, influencing overall body weight.

Additionally, the gut bacteria can impact systemic inflammation and hormonal balance, both of which play critical roles in managing hunger and satiety. An imbalance in these areas can lead to increased appetite and subsequent weight gain. Importantly, the microbiome also affects insulin sensitivity, with certain microbial patterns promoting insulin resistance, further contributing to obesity. Modulating the gut microbiome through dietary changes, probiotics, and other interventions could therefore be a strategic approach to controlling obesity by restoring a healthier microbial balance.

The Prevalence Of Obesity In Australia

The prevalence of obesity in Australia has been increasing significantly over the years. As of the most recent data, about one-third of Australian adults are classified as obese. This increasing trend is seen across different age groups and is more pronounced in certain demographics. 

The prevalence of obesity in Australia is a significant public health concern. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2022 Waist circumference and BMI ABS website, in 2022, almost two-thirds (65.8%) of adults were overweight or obese; and one in three adults (31.7%) were obese.

The future outlook for obesity in Australia is concerning, with projections indicating a continued rise in prevalence.. A 2016 study predicted that by 2025, adult obesity prevalence in Australia would reach 35%.

How To Prevent Obesity?

Obesity is a complex issue in Australia, with a projected rising prevalence in the coming years. However, there are several evidence-based strategies that can be implemented at individual and societal levels to prevent obesity and promote healthy lifestyles.

Dietary Modifications

It is crucial to promote dietary changes that reduce the intake of high-calorie, nutrient-poor foods while increasing the consumption of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. This approach not only helps in managing weight but also in improving overall health.

Evidence supports the effectiveness of nutrition education and interventions that promote a healthy diet from a young age to prevent obesity. For example, a Cochrane review highlights several studies where interventions in school settings involving dietary changes have shown a reduction in the prevalence of obesity among children.

Physical Activity

Engaging in regular physical activity, aiming for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise per week as recommended by the Australian Department of Health.

Physical activity reduces body fat primarily through increasing energy expenditure and enhancing metabolic rate. When you engage in physical activity, your body burns calories derived from carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, which helps to reduce fat stores.

Regular exercise also improves insulin sensitivity, allowing the body to use glucose more effectively rather than storing it as fat. It influences appetite-regulating hormones, which can help manage hunger and promote feelings of fullness. Moreover, the psychological benefits of exercise, such as the release of endorphins, can improve mood and mental health, reducing the likelihood of emotional eating. Overall, incorporating consistent physical activity into daily life not only aids in direct weight loss but also supports long-term healthy weight management. 

However, the incorporation of physical activity into the management of obesity should be done in conjunction with the advice of an appropriate health practitioner, to ensure that any risks from exercising while obese are minimised to the extent possible.

Behavioural and Psychological Strategies

Behavioural interventions that focus on modifying eating habits and lifestyle choices are essential for preventing obesity. This includes strategies like cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), which helps individuals change their eating behaviours and manage weight effectively over the long term. 

CBT is particularly effective in changing eating behaviours by challenging negative thoughts and promoting more positive behavioural changes. It helps individuals develop skills to maintain healthy eating habits, manage stress without turning to food, and sustain an active lifestyle. Research supports the use of CBT in improving weight management outcomes, showing that it can lead to significant weight reduction when combined with dietary and exercise interventions.

Additionally, behaviour modification involves learning to modify and control behaviours through techniques such as self-monitoring, goal setting, and problem-solving, which are essential for achieving and maintaining weight loss. Studies indicate that behaviour modification programs can result in a modest but significant weight loss, and are particularly effective when they include both diet and physical activity components. 

Medications To Help Treat Obesity

While there are medications available for treating obesity, it’s important to understand that they are typically used alongside lifestyle changes like diet and exercise, and not as a standalone solution. Here’s a breakdown of currently approved medications for obesity in Australia: 

Liraglutide (Saxenda)
This injectable medication is a glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) receptor agonist. It works by regulating appetite and blood sugar levels, leading to feelings of fullness and reduced calorie intake. 

Few studies have shown its effectiveness in promoting weight loss in conjunction with a calorie-restricted diet and exercise program.

It’s important to note that liraglutide is a prescription medication only available with a doctor’s supervision and it may have potential side effects like nausea, diarrhoea, and constipation. It’s not suitable for everyone, and your doctor will assess your individual health profile before prescribing it.

Orlistat
Available under the brand name Xenical, orlistat is one of the longest-standing medications approved for obesity treatment in Australia. It works by inhibiting the absorption of dietary fats in the intestine, which helps to reduce caloric intake.

Studies have shown that orlistat, when used alongside a reduced-calorie diet, can promote modest weight loss (around 5-10% of body weight) compared to a placebo.

In Australia, orlistat is available in two forms:

  • Prescription-strength (120mg capsules) under brand names like Xenical.
  • A lower-dose over-the-counter version (60mg capsules) called Alli.

However, orlistat can cause gastrointestinal side effects like oily stools, bloating, and gas, particularly at the beginning of treatment. Hence, before starting orlistat, it’s vital to consult a doctor. They can assess your individual needs, discuss potential risks and benefits, and determine if orlistat is the right choice for your weight management plan.

Phentermine/topiramate (Qsymia)

This medication combines a stimulant with an anti-seizure drug to suppress appetite and boost metabolism. Phentermine is also approved as one of the medications to treat obesity in Australia.

There are a few known side effects for phentermine, such as: 

  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure: This can be a concern for people with pre-existing heart conditions.
  • Insomnia and restlessness: Phentermine’s stimulant properties can make it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep.
  • Anxiety and irritability: The stimulation can also lead to feelings of anxiety or agitation.
  • Headaches: Headaches are a frequent side effect of phentermine use.
  • Dry mouth: This is a common side effect of stimulants and can be uncomfortable.
  • Constipation: Phentermine can slow down digestion, leading to constipation.
  • Loss of appetite: This is the intended effect for weight loss, but it can be too strong for some people.
  • Nausea and vomiting: These can occur, particularly in the initial stages of treatment.

Combating Obesity Becoming Necessary As The Rate Is Spiking

Addressing the rising prevalence of obesity in Australia necessitates a concerted effort encompassing dietary modifications, increased physical activity, and behavioural interventions. As the battle against obesity continues, it is imperative to foster an environment that supports healthier lifestyle choices at individual, community, and policy levels. 

Medications approved remain valuable tools when used in conjunction with lifestyle changes, offering additional support for those struggling with weight management. By integrating these approaches, we can better combat the obesity epidemic and its associated health risks, paving the way for a healthier future.

Written by

Priyom holds a Ph.D. in Plant Biology and Biotechnology from the University of Madras, India. She is an active researcher and an experienced science writer. Priyom has also co-authored several original research articles that have been published in reputed peer-reviewed journals. She is also an avid reader and an amateur photographer.

Written by

Priyom holds a Ph.D. in Plant Biology and Biotechnology from the University of Madras, India. She is an active researcher and an experienced science writer. Priyom has also co-authored several original research articles that have been published in reputed peer-reviewed journals. She is also an avid reader and an amateur photographer.

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