Small changes in our weight could significantly reduce health impact of obesity

Relatively small changes—such as losing as little as 3 kilograms or maintaining our weight—could have a significant effect in reducing the health impact of overweight or obesity in Australia, according to a new report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

The report, Impact of overweight and obesity as a risk factor for chronic conditions: Australian Burden of Disease Study, shows that if all Australians at risk of disease due to overweight or obesity reduced their body mass index (BMI) by just one point—equating to around 3 kilograms for a person of average height—the overall health impact of obesity would drop substantially.

The new findings look at the health impact—or 'burden'—of excess weight in terms of years of healthy life lost through living with an illness or injury, or through dying prematurely. 

'Our weight is our second biggest risk factor in terms of the health 'burden', accounting for 7%,' said AIHW spokesperson Dr Lynelle Moon.

This is behind only tobacco, which accounts for 9% of the burden—though this gap has closed in recent years, as the burden of tobacco drops, and the burden of obesity rises.

Today's report looks at those who were overweight or obese in 2011, and shows that if this group reduced their weight by just one BMI point, the overall health impact of excess weight would be reduced by 14% in 2020.

'And even if we stopped the rising rates of overweight and obesity in Australia by maintaining our weight, about 6% of this 'burden' would be avoided,' Dr Moon said.

The report also shows that the overweight and obesity burden is not equal across all population groups. For example, the lowest socioeconomic group experienced rates of overweight and obesity burden more than double the highest socioeconomic group.

'For the first time, we also have information on the health impact of overweight and obesity in people under 25. For example, for children, the contribution of excess weight to asthma was able to be estimated,' said Dr Moon.

A total of 22 diseases were included in this analysis, including 11 types of cancer, three cardiovascular conditions and dementia.

Notably, around half of diabetes burden (53%) and osteoarthritis burden (45%) were due to overweight and obesity.

Vascular diseases (such as stroke) and risk factors (such as smoking and obesity) were identified as major contributors to the burden of dementia in Australia in an .

Canberra, 13 April 2017

Further information: Dr Lynelle Moon AIHW, Tel. (02) 6244 1235 mob. 0414 899 826