Understanding Why More Australians Than Ever Are Overweight

Understanding Why More Australians Than Ever Are Overweight

Understanding Why More Australians Than Ever Are Overweight The latest figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) show that Australians are just as likely to be overweight as to be in a normal weight range. That’s a disturbing trend, but in part reflects the definitions used for those conditions.

According to ABS data for 2007-2008 (the newest figures available), 37% of Australians aged over 18 are overweight, and the same number are of normal weight. 24% are classified as obese. Both conditions are measured by using body mass index (your weight in kilograms divided by the square of your height in metres). A BMI above 25 is classified as overweight, while above 30 is obese. (My own BMI falls in the overweight category, as it happens.)

When the two figures are combined, 61% of Australians are either overweight or obese. That average conceals a notable gender variation: for men, the figure is 68%, while for women, it is 55%. The rates also rise as people get older, and, as the chart shows, have risen over time.

The key point of dispute over these measures is that BMI doesn’t distinguish between ‘good’ body mass (muscle) and ‘bad’ body mass (fat). In theory, if we had all become gym junkies and bulked up, we’d qualify as overweight even though we had become fitter. That said, a quick glance around any local shopping centre suggests that hasn’t happened.



  • I’m not a fan of the whole BMI thing. Insurance agencies use it for medical underwriting and as someone who was very definitely underweight for a long period and managed to scrape in as only just under normal during that time, I find it very odd.

    Especially when I’m now at what I would consider a pretty average weight (70kg, 175cm) and at the upper end of the normal range.

    BMI simply takes too little into account. A tall guy with a wide frame (say a Polynesian) would probably be considered overweight even if they were very toned. Whereas my brother, who is both taller and lighter than me would be classed as underweight, when really he just has a very light frame.

  • Is the title a trick question? Umm… because most of them/us are lazy and stupid?

    I do think the BMI is a load of crap though. I’m 197cm and 105kg and pretty thin. But according to the BMI I’m overweight (27.1). What shite.

  • Gotta love how they define you as overweight.

    There is a simpler test. Do you feel your stomach pushing on other organs if you are sitting and bend down to tie your shoelaces. If so, you’re a bit too heavy. Can’t see your shoes by looking down, welcome to the Obese club.

    I know plenty of guys that I play basketball with who are 6 foot tall and weigh 100+ kilos (basically all muscle) and they are considered in peak shape. BMI is BS, time for a better measure.

  • A good measure of weight is a combination of BMI and waist line. BMI by itself can give distorted results as it only tests one aspect, your weight.

    • Alternately you could just use BMI for underweight assessments and use body fat percentage for overweight assessments and have highly reliable data.

      If your body fat percentage is in a healthy range, and you aren’t underweight – chances are you don’t have a weight problem. It’s a pity that that’s true for so few australians.

      BFP is inconvenient, since resistance testing (the scales or electrical measuring units commonly used) have a wide margin for error, and calipers are essentially a slightly improved guess. Immersion testing is the best, but having to take a bath in the presence of an assessor is a bit inconvenient for a daily or weekly measure of your fitness program.

  • I think for unfit people BMI is a good measure, but for fit people there probably needs to be more info to get a better reading.

    That said, I’d agree most people aren’t in the ‘fit’ side of things

  • While BMI is far from perfect, it’s clear we’re getting fatter as a nation. I work in IT in a Dilbert like office of 100+ men and I’d guess 85% have man tits.

    It’s funny. I frequently travel to America for business and, over time, have noticed two stereo-types disappearing there and transferring to Australia: obesity and cigarettes.

    Yes, the bible belt there is still fat and lung cancery, but the US coastal cities are visibly fitter….and NOBODY smokes cigarettes anymore. Of course, studies show the coastal states have a higher degree of formal education, so go figure.

  • Agreed, it’s a clumsy measurement. At 175cm tall and 77kg I’m also crossing into the overweight category, but I have a 78cm (30.5″) waist! I have weight trained for years but to an athletic build kind of level rather than ox-like. My height puts me around average caucasian height so if the guidelines are so skewed for someone like me you can expect them to be even further off for those at the other ends of the scale.

  • BMI is just a statistical tool not a medical one.
    firstly it was invented in the 1800 and is basically
    just your weight divided by the square of your hight. the other big problem with the data that it outputs in these studies is that In the 1990s the World Health Organization (WHO) decided that a BMI of 25 to 29 should be considered overweight and a BMI over 30 is obese. This became the definitive guide for determining if someone is overweight.
    However, the current WHO and NIH ranges were not established with references to any scientific study, but are arbitrary ranges

  • Interesting the relation between spiralling debt and obesity in first world nations. As Australians get more and more in debt we seem to be catching up to our American penal colony cousins at an umcomfortably quick rate in terms of obesity and obesity related medical conditions.

  • BMI is more than functional and the excuse of it doesn’t take muscle into account is ridiculous because that is only applicable to maybe three percent of the population. Whereas the other sixty percent of people who are overweight try and use it as an excuse so they don’t need to eat healthy.

  • I think the twin partners of lack of exercise and unhealthy eating are the obvious causes. But why are our diets poor and why don’t we exercise? Families with both parents working are tired and time poor. That answers the question for me. With 4 kids and being health conscious, I started developing weekly meals and shopping lists which were balanced, low fat, healthy and quick to preare after work. All of my children are slim, and husband and I are working on it! Check it out at aussiemealsmadeeasy.com – there’s a free sample to download.

    • Melissa, I respect and commend anyone trying to improve the health of those around them but I do want to say it’s not necessarily true that low-fat necessarily means “balanced”. I’m speaking as someone that spent way too long caught in the low-fat (and subsequent high carbohydrate) dogma and wished someone had stopped me and encouraged me to do a lot more study into the benefits of a properly balanced diet that includes fats. I’d suggest that anyone interested read the work of Gary Taubes, Dr Eades, Mark Sisson, Robb Wolf amongst others.

      • Hi Nick
        Yes I agree with you – there are healthy fats that benefit health and I eat them regularly. However a diet that is overall low in fat is recommended to reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes and some cancers. My sources are the Australian Dietary Guidelines and the World Cancer Research Fund. My meal plans at aussiemealsmadeeasy.com are low fat, not no fat and they are balanced meals.

  • The BMI is an outdated rating scale to determine whether an individual is overweight/obese. I go to gym 3-4 times per week am 6ft tall, 84kg and have a fat percentage of roughly 15% (BMI 24; which is borderline normal/overweight).

    A better rating scale would be to go by an individuals fat percentage, though this requires a scan (rather than callipers) it is more precise.

  • They should be processed by slaughterhouses and sent to third world countries to feed the starving. We could even off-shore outsource the slaughtering thus giving them jobs too…

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