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Adults

Almost two-thirds (63%) of the population aged 18 and over are overweight or obese (36% overweight, 28% obese) [1]. Only one-third (35%) of Australian adults have a healthy body weight.

The body mass index (BMI) distribution varies between men and women. The distribution for men peaks at higher BMI values, indicating that overweight/obesity is more common in men (71%) than in women (56%).

Figure 1: Body mass index distribution, persons aged 18 and over by sex, 2014–15

This is a frequency distribution line graph showing the body mass index (BMI) distribution of men and women. There are vertical lines representing the BMI ranges for underweight (BMI <18), normal weight (BMI 18 to <25), overweight (BMI 25 to <30) and obese (BMI >30). Looking at the area under the curve, there is a higher percentage of men than women in the overweight but not obese category, and a higher percentage of women than men in the normal weight range. The highest frequency BMI for men is around a BMI of 26 (9.8%) and the highest for women is around a BMI of 24 (8.1%).

Source: AIHW analysis of ABS Microdata: National Health Survey, 2014–15.

Trends in overweight and obesity

The proportion of overweight or obese adults in the population (based on measured height and weight) has increased in recent decades, after taking changes in the age structure into account. The prevalence increased from 57% in 1995 to 61% in 2007–08 and to 63% in 2011–12. There was no significant increase between 2011–12 and 2014–15, with prevalence remaining at 63% [1, 2]. The increase was largely driven by a rise in the level of obesity from 19% to 28% between 1995 and 2014–15, with the proportion of overweight but not obese adults remaining similar (38% to 35%) over the same period.

Between 1995 and 2014–15, the relative increase in the proportion of overweight or obese adults was higher in women (12%) than men (8.8%). However, the gap between men and women has remained similar.

Figure 2: Proportion of the population who is overweight or obese, persons aged 18 and over, 1995 to 2014–15

This is a line graph showing the change in the proportion of people who were overweight or obese, and obese only, from 1995 to 2014–15. There is a steady increase for both groups over the period, the percentage of overweight or obese people increasing from 57% in 1995 to 63% in 2014–15 and the percentage of obese people increasing from 19% in 1995 to 28% in 2014–15.

Notes:

  1. Age-standardised to the 2001 Australian population.
  2. Overweight and obesity classification based on measured height and weight in all 3 surveys.

Source: Risk factor trends: age patterns in key health risk factors over time. Cat. no. PHE 166. Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare and ABS 2015; and National Health Survey: First Results, 2014–15. ABS cat. no. 4364.0.55.001. Canberra: Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Inequalities

The level of overweight and obesity in adults varies according to geographical location and is higher outside of Major cities. In 2014–15, around three-quarters of men living in Inner regional (75%) and Outer regional and remote (74%) areas were overweight or obese compared with 69% of men living in Major cities. Around two-thirds of women living in Inner regional (63%) and Outer regional and remote (64%) areas were overweight or obese compared with just over half (53%) of women who live in Major cities.

The level of overweight and obesity also varies according to socioeconomic group for women. Almost two-thirds (61%) of women in the lowest socioeconomic group were overweight or obese, compared with almost half (48%) of those in the highest socioeconomic group. For men, however, the proportions of overweight or obesity were similar in each socioeconomic group, ranging from 69% to 73%.

Figure 3: Overweight or obese, persons aged 18 and over, by selected population characteristics, 2014–15

This is a horizontal bar chart comparing the prevalence of overweight or obese men and women by the remoteness categories Major cities, Inner regional, and Outer regional and remote and by socioeconomic status quintiles. Overweight and obesity is higher for men than for women across all groups. Men in the Inner regional and the second most disadvantaged areas have the highest percentage of overweight and obesity (75% and 73% respectively), while the lowest percentage is in Major cities (69%) and the least disadvantaged areas (69%). For women, the highest percentage of overweight or obesity is in Outer regional and remote (64%) and the most disadvantaged areas (61%), while the lowest percentage is in Major cities (53%) and the least disadvantaged areas (48%).

Note: Q1–Q5 refers to area-based quintiles of socioeconomic position, based on the ABS Index of Relative Socio-Economic Disadvantage (IRSD) [3].

Source: AIHW analysis of ABS 'Microdata: National Health Survey, 2014–15'.

International comparisons

Based on data for 2015 or the closest available year for people aged over 15 years, more than half (54%) of adults in Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries are overweight or obese (based on self-reported or measured data) [4]. Australia’s rate of obesity (28% of the population aged 15 and over) is fifth highest among 41 OECD countries, behind the United States (38%), Mexico (32%), New Zealand (31%) and Hungary (30%). The average rate of obesity among OECD countries is 19%. Japan has the lowest rate obesity at 3.7%.

Figure 4: Obesity in selected OECD countries, persons aged 15 and over, 2015 or nearest year

This is a horizontal bar chart comparing the percentage of obesity across 17 OECD countries. The United States has the highest percentage of obesity (35%) followed by Mexico (32%), New Zealand (30%) and Hungary (29%). Australia has the 5th highest percentage of obesity out of these countries (28%). Countries with the lowest percentage of obesity are Japan (3.7%), Korea (4.7%) and Slovak Republic (17%).

Source: Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) 2017. Health at a glance 2015: OECD indicators. Paris: OECD Publishing.

Children

Results from the ABS 2011–12 Australian Health Survey show that one-quarter (25%) of children aged 2–17 were overweight or obese, with 18% being overweight and 7.0% obese. The proportion of boys and girls who were overweight or obese was similar (25% compared with 26%).

Rates of overweight and obesity were similar across age groups, ranging from 23% for children aged 2–4 to 27% for adolescents aged 12–15. Boys aged 5–7 had the highest obesity rate (8.9%), and obesity among girls was most common at ages 5–7 (8.2%) and 16–17 (8.3%).

The proportion of children and adolescents aged 5–17 who were overweight or obese increased between 1995 and 2007–08 (21% and 25%, respectively) but remained stable to 2011–12 (26%) [5].


References

  1. ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) 2015. National Health Survey: First Results, 2014–15. ABS cat, no. 4364.0.55.001. Canberra: Australian Bureau of Statistics.
  2. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2012. Risk factor trends: age patterns in key health risk factors over time. Cat. no. PHE 166. Canberra: AIHW.
  3. ABS 2013. Census of Population and Housing: Socio-Economic Indexes for Areas (SEIFA). ABS cat. no. 2033.0.55.001. Canberra: Australian Bureau of Statistics.
  4. Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) 2017. Health at a glance 2015: OECD indicators. Paris: OECD Publishing.
  5. Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2013. Australian Health Survey: updated results, 2011–2012. ABS cat. no. 4364.0.55.003. Canberra: ABS.