Overweight & obesity

Why is reporting overweight and obesity rates important?

Overweight and obesity in young people is a risk factor for many serious health conditions in the short and long term (NHMRC 2013). 

Overweight and obese young people are at increased risk of diabetes, stroke, coronary heart disease, hypertension and cancer in later life (Reilly & Kelly 2011). They are also at higher risk of adverse psychosocial outcomes, resulting from teasing, bulling, poor body image and depression (Latzer & Stein 2013). Many obese young people also grow to become obese adults (AIHW 2011).

Do rates vary across population groups?

In 2011–12, around one third (32%) of young people aged 12–24 had a Body Mass Index (BMI) above the cut-off points for ‘overweight’ and ‘obese’ for their age (see Notes for more details). A significantly higher proportion of young people aged 18–24 were overweight or obese (36%) compared with 12–17 year olds (26%).

A greater proportion of males aged 12–24 were either overweight or obese compared with females aged 12–24 (35% and 29% respectively). However, in relation to obesity only, the rate was higher among young females (13%) than among young males (11%).

The largest disparity between populations groups in relation to being overweight or obese was between Indigenous and non-Indigenous young people. The proportion of Indigenous young people who were overweight or obese was almost 1.5 times as high as the rate for non-Indigenous young people (46% compared to 32%).

Has there been a change between 2007–08 and 2011–12?

The ABS Australian Health Survey 2011–12 showed that the only overweight/obese category which increased between 2007–08 and 2011–12 was for those aged 18–24 who were classified as obese (increased from 13% to 15%), however this increase was not statistically significant. In the 4 years since the previous survey there were no significant differences in the proportion of overweight or obese young people aged 12–24 between all of the population groups examined. Research suggests that the obesity rates among children and adolescents may have stabilised between 1996 and 2008 (Olds et al. 2011). However, the prevalence of overweight and obesity among young people remains high, and is therefore a cause for concern (AIHW 2014).