In 2021, 62.2.% of adult Canberrans reported being either overweight (35.5%) or obese (26.7%) in the ACT General Health Survey (Figure 1).
ACT males (40.5%) were significantly more likely to report being overweight than females (30.6%) in 2021.
Figure 1 demonstrates that while the proportion of ACT adults who reported being overweight, but not obese, over the last decade (2011-2021) has remained persistently high (between 30 and 40%), no clear trend is apparent. However, the proportion of adults categorised as obese has significantly increased over the same period, from 20.2% in 2011 to 26.7% in 2021.
The ACT had the lowest proportion of adults who were either overweight or obese compared to other Australian states and territories in the 2017-18 National Health Survey, where 67.0% of Australian adults were overweight or obese, compared with 64.0% of adults in the ACT.
Nationally, a greater proportion of males were overweight or obese than women (74.5% and 59.7% respectively). This difference is also seen in the ACT.
Adults at increased risk of chronic disease (waist circumference)
In 2018, 54.1% of men and 65.3% of women in the ACT had a measured waist circumference in the ABS NHS that puts them at an increased risk of chronic disease.
This is similar to the 3 in 5 Australian men (59.6%) and 2 in 3 Australian women (66.0%) who had a measured waist circumference that put them at an increased risk of disease.
The proportion of Australia’s population reported to be at increased risk of disease due to their waist circumference has remained stable since 2011-12.
Overweight and obesity is a leading cause of chronic disease
In 2018, overweight and obesity was the second leading cause of the total disease burden in Australia.
Burden of disease studies look at the combined impact of dying early and living with disease or injury. Burden of disease is explored further in a separate report.
Overweight and obesity contributed to 8.4% of the total disease burden in Australia. Tobacco use was the leading contributor to total burden of disease at 8.6%.
While tobacco was the leading cause of premature deaths in Australia, overweight and obesity was the leading cause of burden due to living with disease or injury.
The total burden of disease due to overweight and obesity in Australia increased by 3% between 2015 and 2018 (from 14.1 to 14.5 disability-adjusted life years per 1,000 population, respectively).
Maternal overweight and obesity
Maternal overweight and obesity can increase the risk of a range of complications and adverse pregnancy outcomes for both mother and child.
In 2020, 50.1% of ACT mothers were classified as being overweight (26.5%) or obese (23.7%) in their first trimester of pregnancy (Figure 2).
The proportion of ACT mothers who are overweight or obese in the first trimester of pregnancy increased significantly from 45.3% in 2012 to 50.1% in 2020 (Figure 2).
Analysis of maternal and perinatal data in the ACT estimates that maternal overweight and obesity contribute to a large proportion of adverse pregnancy outcomes:
36.2% for pre-eclampsia
29.3% for gestational diabetes mellitus
25.2% for large for gestational age babies
21.6% for longer antenatal stay in hospital (≥2 days)
16.3% for extreme preterm birth
15.5% for caesarean delivery
6.5% admission of the newborn to a special care nursery or neonatal intensive care unit.
ACT youth and childhood overweight and obesity
In 2021, nearly 1 in 3 (29.4%) of children aged 5-17 years were reported as being either overweight (19.2%) or obese (10.2%) in the ACT General Health Survey.
There was no significant difference in reported prevalence between male and female children.
The proportion of ACT children and adolescents (5-17 year age-group) who were overweight has varied between 12% and 20% from 2011 to 2021, with no clear trend over time. It is possible that an increase in the proportion who were obese from 6.1% in 2013-14 to 10.2% in 2021 is the start of a concerning trend which will need to be monitored closely.
The 2017-18 National Health Survey reported children (aged 2 to 17 years) in the ACT and Tasmania to have the highest proportions of overweight or obesity at 28.6% and 28.7% respectively. Victoria had the lowest proportion at 22.6%.
This survey also found the proportion of children who were overweight or obese has remained stable from 2014-15 to 2017-18 across all Australian states and territories, with the exception of Victoria where this rate has declined since 2014-15 from 28.6% to 22.6%.
Overweight and obesity in kindergarten
Nearly 1 in 5 (18.2%) kindergarten children and more than 1 in 3 (38.5.%) Year 6 students in the ACT are overweight or obese (Figure 4; Figure 5).
A preliminary analysis of the Kindergarten Health Check data from 2014-2017 suggests that only a small proportion of parents whose children were measured as overweight or obese identified having a concern about their child’s weight.
This finding, where children’s overweight status is under-estimated by parents, is consistent with international experience.
Further analysis of the full range of Kindergarten Health Check data, including 2021 data, will be important to validate and confirm these findings.
Overweight and obesity in Year 6 students
Among ACT Year 6 students, an encouraging downward trend in overweight and obesity was reported between 2006 and 2018.