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War on weight: White paper launched in bid to curb obesity rates

3 min read
27 Mar 2023
Woman smiling.
Dr Aletha Ward was the lead author on an obesity white paper published by the West Moreton Obesity Group.

Public health experts say regional Queensland is losing the battle of the bulge.

With obesity levels seemingly getting worse every year, Dr Aletha Ward, a lecturer in nursing and public health researcher at the University of Southern Queensland, said big changes were needed otherwise rates of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke and some cancers will continue to rise.

Dr Ward was the lead author on a white paper published this week by the West Moreton Obesity Group with their own ideas to tackle the obesity epidemic in regional Queensland.

“This document tells us what many health experts have been saying for years – obesity levels are causing significant disease rates and urgent action is needed, especially in rural and regional areas,” Dr Ward said.

“There are many achievable solutions in this document. They are all centred around the same outcome: creating an environment that protects people from obesity and other non-communicable diseases.

“Tackling obesity is everyone’s responsibility. The ways we can help is by supporting policymakers with our research and driving positive change in our communities.”

The document ‘Local Governments Leading the Way’, which examined several case studies and highlighted potential solutions and opportunities for local government reform, will be presented to the Local Government Association of Queensland for review later this year.

It followed the latest West Moreton Health Indicators Report, which revealed obesity prevalence in West Moreton adults increased by 3.5 per cent annually or 46 per cent in total between 2009 and 2020 – more than double the state’s rates.

Obesity prevalence is affected by social, cultural, and environmental determinants of health, and failing to prevent and treat these rising rates can have adverse social and economic consequences.

Dr Ward said she was concerned by the number of fast-food restaurants appearing around regional Queensland and lack of social health policies that address obesogenic environments.

“Obesity levels are 12 per cent higher in regional and rural Queensland than the major cities,” Dr Ward said.

“Furthermore, those living in socio-economically disadvantaged areas in Queensland are 49 per cent more likely to be overweight.

“There’s no silver bullet, no magic wand, but the good news is it is preventable and reversable if we step up our efforts.”

The white paper put forward a range of recommendations, including:

  • identifying areas of high obesity, food insecurity and socio-economic disadvantage within each Local Government Association (LGA);
  • LGAs to develop and implement a Public Health Plan;
  • prohibit the marketing of unhealthy food and sugar sweetened beverages at sporting events, council property and community functions; and
  • enable local governments to utilise planning policies that can address where fast-food chains can be built and the vicinity to key infrastructure such as schools.

“Local governments can provide important leadership in our battle with the bulge,” Dr Ward said.

“They are closest to the community. They understand the strengths and opportunities for their community to maintain healthy lifestyles.

“Planning must extend beyond roads and footpaths; it is about creating an environment which promotes healthy eating, physical activity and an engaged community.”

Have a passion for improving the health of communities? The University of Southern Queensland’s Master of Public Health can help you prepare for the emerging healthcare challenges of the 21st century.