Overweight and obesity are becoming a significant problem in Australia, where they are currently the second highest contributor to the burden of disease. At present, 1 in 4 Australian children, and nearly 2 in 3 adults are obese or overweight (35% overweight, 28% obese).[1] Furthermore, the prevalence of obesity and overweight has been increasing, with 10% more adults overweight or obese in 2012 compared to 1995.[1][2]

Disturbingly, much of this increase has been driven by an increase in obesity from 19% to 28% between 1995 and 2012, with the prevalence of overweight (but not obese) adults remaining relatively static (36% to 38%).

Like tooth decay, there is a socioeconomic gradient, with 63 per cent of women in the lowest socioeconomic group being overweight or obese, compared with only 47 per cent of those in the highest socioeconomic group, although the proportions of overweight or obesity are similar in each socioeconomic group for men.[3] Australia’s rate of obesity amongst adults is fourth highest among 34 OECD countries, behind only the United States, Mexico and Hungary.[3] 

Results from the 2011-12 Australian Health Survey show that 25 per cent of children aged 2–17 are overweight or obese, with 18 per cent being overweight and 7 per cent obese.[1] The prevalence of overweight and obesity is similar across age groups, from 23 per cent for children aged 2–4 to 27 per cent for adolescents aged 12–15. Boys aged 5–7 have the highest obesity rate (9 per cent), and obesity among girls is most common at ages 5–7 and 16–17 (8 per cent). There was a reasonably large increase in the prevalence of overweight and obesity between 1995 (21 per cent) and 2008 (25 per cent), but it has plateaued since then.

The total direct cost for overweight and obesity in 2005 was $12 billion ($6.5 billion for overweight and $14.5 billion for obesity), with indirect costs of $35.6 billion per year.[4]


[1] Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2013. Australian Health Survey: updated results, 2011–2012. ABS cat. no. 4364.0.55.003. Canberra: ABS.

[2] 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.

[3] Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2015. Cardiovascular disease, diabetes and chronic kidney disease - Australian facts: Risk factors. Cardiovascular, diabetes and chronic kidney disease series no. 4. Cat. no. CDK 4. Canberra: AIHW.

[4] Colagiuri S, Lee CMY, Colagiuri R et al. The cost of overweight and obesity in Australia. Med J Aust 2010;192:260–64.