Gen X, Y and Z: Obesity risk higher for younger generations

UNDER EMBARGO—until 1.00am Friday 24 November 2017

You are much more likely to be obese than your parents were when they were your age, according to new analysis released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

The report, Overweight and obesity in Australia: a birth cohort analysis, uses historical data to determine a person’s likelihood of being obese based on their year of birth. By looking at obesity in this way, we are able to better understand whether the generation a person is born into may put them at greater risk of obesity.

The report shows that at various age milestones in their lives, people born more recently are more likely to be obese than those born in the past at the same ages.

‘Adults in 2014–15 were significantly more likely to be obese than those of the same age 20 years earlier,’ said AIHW spokesperson Dr Lynelle Moon.

‘For instance, when looking at people born in the mid-1990s, we found that about 15% were obese at age 18–21. This is almost double the proportion of obese 18–21 year olds who were born 2 decades earlier (8%)’.

A similar pattern held true for very young children. At age 2–5, about 9% of children born in the early 2010s were obese, compared with about 4% 2 decades earlier.

‘Obesity is a risk factor for many chronic health conditions, so its presence at younger ages among those born more recently is likely to lead to higher rates of these conditions at younger ages,’ Dr Moon said.

A second report, also released today, brings together a range of data to provide a comprehensive overview of obesity in Australia.

A picture of overweight and obesity in Australia reaffirms the message of the growing problem of obesity, showing that nearly 2 in 3 (63%) Australian adults were overweight or obese in 2014–15, up from 57% in 1995. This rise been largely driven by a shift towards Australian adults being obese (rather than overweight but not obese), with fewer now in the normal weight range.

Of particular concern is the growing rate of severe obesity—that is, a body mass index (BMI) of 35 or more. In 1995, 5% of Australian adults were severely obese, but this almost doubled to 9% in 2014–15.

The report looks at groups of people at particular risk of being overweight or obese and shows major differences across groups. For example, people who are in lower socioeconomic groups and those living outside of major cities are more likely to be overweight or obese than others. Last year, the AIHW revealed differences in obesity rates across communities.

‘Compared with non-Indigenous Australians, Indigenous adults are also more likely to be overweight or obese and Indigenous children and adolescents are more likely to be obese,’ Dr Moon said.

Being overweight or obese is a risk factor for many chronic health conditions, and also comes with a substantial financial cost for both the individual and government—estimated at $8.6 billion in 2011–12.

Earlier this year, the AIHW quantified the health burden of obesity, and revealed that small changes in our weight could significantly reduce its impact.

Previous AIHW analysis also showed a rising number of Australians are turning to surgery to control their weight

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