Who is overweight?
Almost two-thirds (63%) of the population aged 18 and over are overweight or obese (36% overweight, 28% obese) . 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
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
- Age-standardised to the 2001 Australian population.
- Overweight and obesity classification based on measured height and weight in all 4 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.
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
Note: Q1–Q5 refers to area-based quintiles of socioeconomic position, based on the ABS Index of Relative Socio-Economic Disadvantage (IRSD) .
Source: AIHW analysis of ABS 'Microdata: National Health Survey, 2014–15'.
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) . 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
Source: Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) 2017. Health at a glance 2015: OECD indicators. Paris: OECD Publishing.
Results from the ABS 2014–15 National Health Survey show that about one-quarter (26%) of children aged 2–17 were overweight or obese, with 18% being overweight and 8.0% obese. The proportion of boys and girls who were overweight or obese was similar (27% compared with 25%).
Rates of overweight and obesity were similar across age groups, ranging from 20% for children aged 2–4 to 33% for adolescents aged 16–17. Boys aged 16–17 had the highest obesity rate (8.2%), and obesity among girls was most common at ages 5–7 (12%).
The proportion of children and adolescents aged 5–17 who were overweight or obese increased between 1995 and 2007–08 (21% and 25%, respectively) then remained stable to 2011–12 (26%) and 2014–15 (27%) .
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) 2017. Health at a glance 2015: OECD indicators. Paris: OECD Publishing.
- Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2013. Australian Health Survey: updated results, 2011–2012. ABS cat. no. 4364.0.55.003. Canberra: ABS.