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Obesity and injury are major health burdens on society, and the two are most likely linked, according to a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

The report, Obesity and injury in Australia: a review of the literature, presents a summary of information from the existing literature to investigate obesity–injury relationships.

It shows that while findings are mixed, most evidence suggests that obesity increases the risk of injury.

‘The probability of falls, trips, or stumbles rises with obesity,’ said Professor James Harrison of the AIHW’s National Injury Surveillance Unit.

‘However, the increased risk of falls in the obese may be somewhat offset by the possible protective effects of body fat as cushioning and of increased bone density in weight-bearing joints.’

‘Sleep apnoea is also strongly associated with obesity, and this condition greatly increases the risk of road injury, due to the fatigue experienced by sufferers.’

In children, the evidence suggests that their risk of falls—and therefore likelihood of face, tooth, and musculoskeletal injuries—also increases with obesity. Obesity during pregnancy is a risk factor for injury to both mother and baby.

‘Obesity can also have negative effects in the workplace—being obese has been found to increase the incidence of workplace injury. It is also possibly risky for employees working with obese people, such as nurses who are required to lift patients,’ Professor Harrison said.

The relationship between body mass and injury risk during sport is difficult to assess. Population-based body mass index (BMI) measures are often not appropriate for athletes, whose increased BMI can be due to a higher muscle mass, rather than excess fat.

The outcomes of injury are also affected by obesity.

‘The average length of stay in hospital is significantly longer for obese injured patients than for patients who are not obese,’ Professor Harrison said.

‘They may also have greater requirements for respiratory support, and are more likely to suffer certain complications of care, such as pneumonia, renal failure and sepsis, during their time in hospital.’

The AIHW is a major national agency set up by the Australian Government to provide reliable, regular and relevant information and statistics on Australia's health and welfare.

Canberra, 3 November 2011

Further information: Professor James Harrison, tel. (08) 8201 7602

For media copies of the report: Publications Officer 02 6244 1032

Full report:

Obesity and injury in Australia: a review of the literature