Obesity has been a central concern for Australian public health practitioners due to the rapid increase in overweight and obesity in Australian population over the last 30 years (Preventive Health Taskforce 2009). The level of obesity for both males and females in Australia is around 60 percent (Hawley & Dustan 2008).
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The primary prevention strategy for obesity prevention is to address multi factors that lead to gaining excessive weight in people, because this problem originates from multi-interrelated complex factors (National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, 2012).
In this essay, three issues with regard to obesity will be discussed. The impact of obesity on individuals and communities will be explored. Then, the risk factors of obesity will be identified. Finally, some primary prevention programs and strategies will be analysed.
The Impact of Obesity on Population
Obesity may lead to many health problems in all age groups of the society. Obese children have great chance of developping chronic diseases (Veugelers & Fitzgerald 2005). High childhood BMI may increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, hypertension, let alone coronary heart disease (Falconer, Viner & Kinra 2012; Stevens, Trusdale, Wang, Cai & Erber 2011).
As a result, this supports the claim that obesity in children can be considered as a risk factor for developing chronic diseases in the adulthood (Park, Falconer, Viner & Kinra 2012). In addition, adolescents’ obesity may lead to high risk of developing cardiovascular diseases at young adults. Obese young adults and middle-aged adults are more likely to develop chronic diseases compared to non-obese counterparts (Stevens et al 2011).
Further, obesity leads to very serious health problems among older people. It has been found that obesity among older people (aged above 70 years) may have only little effect on the potential years of life lost (PYLL). However, obesity may affect their disability adjusted life years (DALY) (Reynolds, Saito & Crimmins 2005).
Obesity may have some negative effects on the mental well-being. Being obese or overweight may increase the prevalence of psychiatric conditions such as depression, anxiety and stress. Research has also shown that disabled people are more likely to be obese than normal personal due to lack of physical activities.
At the social level, the cost of obesity and obesity-associated problems may increase the country’s economical burden. In 2008, Australia estimated total annual cost of the direct and indirect expenditure on obesity and excessive weight to be 56 billion Australian dollars (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2010). Thus, it is clear that weight gain is a problem in obesity.
Risk factors of Obesity
Obesity is a demonstration of energy imbalance in the body. Imbalance of energy occurs due to taking more calories than required (World Health Organisation 2013). In fact, there are many factors associated with living patterns in individuals and communities that may lead to obesity.
Those factors can have imbalanced and insufficient diet, screen time and advertisements, lack of access to nutritious food, socio-economic status, work, physical environment and emotional factors.
Excessive fat intake results in higher morbidity rates in adults due to high rates of cardiovascular diseases and diabetes.
Imbalanced diet and smoking during pregnancy may culminate in obese children (Moll 2014; Kries, Toschke, Koletzko & Slikker 2002). A study in Yale School of Medicine and the University of Cologne found that mothers who have high fat diet might have obese children (Moll 2014).
Shorter duration of breastfeeding also contributes to having insufficient child diet, which may lead to overweight children (Tawia 2013; The Department of Health 2013).
Family structure may have some effects on weight gain. A study shows that children brought up by single mother or by women with no male partners for longer than two years have higher chances of developing obesity compared to children who are raised by two partners (Schmmer 2010).
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Spending long hours in front of the television or other devices may lead to weight gain. Researchers have found that prolonged viewing time increases food consumption either by having more snakes between meals or by consuming advertised food (Dennison & Edmunds 2008).
Lack of access to nutritious food and the socioeconomic status can be contributing risk factors for being obese and overweight. Australian Aboriginals face the issues of lack of access to affordable and quality nutritious food in their rural and remote Australian areas (Burns & Thomson 2006). Thus, obesity rates in Aboriginals are higher than those in non-Aboriginals in Australia (Burns &Thomson, 2006).
Many people consider work as a contributing factor to weight gain (National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute 2012).
Physical environment plays an important role in contributing to gaining weight. A study in California indicates that there is association between obesity and the urban design that does not support physical activity and makes people rely on transportation instead of walking (Lopez-zeting, Lee & Friis 2006).
Programs, resources and collaborations
Several efforts have been taken to reduce obesity in Australians due to its negative impact on people’s health.
Smoking in Australia has been reduced successfully through the use of national tobacco strategy, bans on tobacco advertisements (partially), health warnings on tobacco products sold in Australia, high taxation, education to change behaviours, regulations on tobacco products, and disclosure (The Department of Health 2013).
Baby Friendly Health Initiative
Aim: To increase breastfeeding among women and aim to reduce the associated risk of obesity in children.
Initiative: This is an existing strategy of breastfeeding that has been done through raising mothers’ awareness of the benefits of increased duration of breastfeeding to avoid the associated risk of having obese children (UNICEF 2013).
To make this happen, multi sectoral collaborations were involved, such as Australian Feeding Association, Baby Friendly Health Initiatives and Health Care Staff (UNICEF 2013). O’Dea (2005) shows that breastfeeding approaches could be effectively used to reduce obesity in children.
Active After-School Communities Program
Aim: To engage active children in safe physical environments to promote their physical activity through playing after school between 3 pm and 5:30 pm.
Program: This is an existing program that provides children with recreational safe places to promote children’s physical activity. This is done through the involvement of regional coordinators and local communities in more than 1500 sites around Australia.
It is thought that this program has to involve more stakeholders and should be run for more than two days a week to be more effective (Australian Sports Communities 2008). Moodie, Carter, Swinburn, and Haby (2010) argue that the program is cost effective and can be utilised to reduce obesity cases among school-aged children.
Aim: To provide aboriginal communities, especially remote ones, with accessible and affordable healthy food by 2015. Such food would make them healthier and reduce the chances of developing obesity.
This plan can be achieved through employment of couple of strategies. These strategies will ensure that healthy food will always be available to those communities. It has been noted that this strategy needs to involve more governmental and non-governmental bodies to support its continued success (Outback Stores 2014).
Research has shown that the use of the program has significantly improved the health status of aboriginals in Australia (Lee, Leonard, Moloney & Minniecon 2009)
The NSW Healthy Worker Initiative
Aim: Healthy workers initiative aims to promote healthy lifestyles among workers in order to avoid obesity and the associated risks.
Program: This is a proposed program. It is collaboration between NSW Health and New Coverwork. In addition, it involves other stakeholders such as business industries, get active behavioural change program and health professionals.
This initiative held a forum in 2013 between business and health stakeholders to outline the planned initiative and to get suggestions from the stakeholders. It will commence in July, 2014 (NSW Health Government 2013). Colagiuri (2004) asserts that the NSW Healthy Worker program has the potential to increase the level of healthy living among workers.
The Front of Pack Nutrition Labelling
Aim: This is a proposed initiative that aim to inform and increase the consumer awareness of the nutritious content of the food bought from retailers.
Program: This program aims to label food and beverages. The number of stars indicates the level of health associated with various products. About nine stakeholders will collaborate on this initiative (The Department of Health 2014). Research has shown that the initiative is based on public health principles, which seek to reduce cases of obesity in the society (Nestle & Jacobson 2000).
Aim: The proposed initiative aims to reduce the television viewing time. It proposes to use viewing time for educational purposes.
Program: The program will help families to schedule their time with less television viewing to go to local recreational areas to do some physical activities (Andreyeva, Kelly & Harris 2011; Baker, IDennison, Boyer, Sellers, Russo & Sherwood 2007). Another program can target families to educate them on how to develop healthy habits and stay active.
For example, television programmes can target women and educate them on the benefits of breastfeeding their children in order to avoid child obesity. There has been a positive correlation between the chances of developing obesity in children and the amount of time spent watching the television (Dennison & Edmunds 2008).
In conclusion, the negative impact associated with obesity was identified in this essay. Then, the risk factors were explored.
By exploring the risk factors of obesity, numerous programs were identified in order to be used as primary health prevention programs to reduce the prevalence and incidence of the multifaceted risk factors of obesity at the population level. As noticed, this may need to include many health and non-health sectors to resolve the obesity epidemic.
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