Health

Australian Health Check: One Fat Foot In The Grave?

The Australian Bureau of Statistics has released the results from its 2011-2012 national health survey which focuses on chronic diseases. Among the sobering results is the fact that approximately one third of Australian adults suffer from high levels of cholesterol, while over 60% are overweight or obese.

Researchers from the Australian Bureau of Statistics collected blood and/or urine samples of 11,000 Australians aged five and over. These samples were then tested for a range of chronic disease and nutrition biomarkers. As predicted, one of the biggest health risks in Australia continues to be high cholesterol and cardiovascular disease.

According to the survey results, a whopping 33.2 percent of Australian adults have high levels of LDL (AKA ‘bad’) cholesterol. Meanwhile, 23.1 percent had lower than normal levels of HDL, or “good” cholesterol. Troublingly, the majority of people surveyed weren’t even aware of their health condition, with only 10.1% self-reporting that they had high cholesterol.

When focusing on older Australians, the results balloon out even further — some 76.4% of adults aged 45 years and over were taking cholesterol-lowering medication or had one or more of high total cholesterol, low HDL cholesterol, high LDL cholesterol or high triglyceride levels based on their test results.

Not unrelatedly, obesity levels in the country were also found to be on the rise:

It is estimated that 62.8% of Australian adults are now overweight or obese, with this figure increasing over the past two decades (up from 56.3% in 1995). Research shows that excess body weight is a major risk factor for heart disease, as high levels of body fat can raise blood lipid levels which can cause fatty deposits developing in the arteries, increasing the risk of heart attack or stroke.

 

In 2011–12, people who were obese were nearly five times as likely as those who were of normal weight or underweight to have high triglycerides (25.3% compared with 5.3%) and more than twice as likely to have lower than normal levels of HDL ‘good’ cholesterol (36.2% compared with 14.1%). This pattern was also evident for total cholesterol but the relationship was not as strong.

The report also noted that being overweight or obese increased the risk of abnormal test results for nearly every chronic disease tested in the NHMS (diabetes, cardiovascular disease, chronic kidney disease, liver function, anaemia). The differences remained even after age was taken into account.

The risk of cardiovascular disease was heightened when obesity was combined with smoking; particularly for younger people.

The report offers no verdicts or recommendations — it just let’s the statistics speak for themselves. Clearly however, it doesn’t look like the national obesity crisis is going anywhere.

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Australian Health Survey: Biomedical Results for Chronic Diseases, 2011-12 [Australian Bureau of Statistics]