Obesity is a serious health problem for individuals and a serious cost to public health budgets and the economy through lost workforce participation and productivity – Access Economics estimated its total cost to the Australian community at nearly $4 billion in 2005 (The Economic Costs of Obesity). Hence it’s important to understand why some communities are more obese than others.
After reading a recent Slate Magazine article linking Colorado’s outdoor culture with its low rate of obesity (Why are obesity rates so low in Colorado?), you may think Queensland’s outdoor culture would lead to a similar outcome here, but this is far from the case. Indeed, despite our beautiful beaches and rainforests, we may have less of an outdoor culture than other States, at least judging by rates of obesity and physical inactivity. The Queensland Health website notes (on a page which hasn’t been updated since 2003-04 unfortunately):
In recent years the prevalence of overweight/obesity in Queensland has increased more than the national average and is now the highest of the States, and levels of physical inactivity have failed to drop to the same extent as the Australian average, giving Queensland the second highest rates.
The most recent interstate comparative data on obesity appears to be the National Health Survey 2004-05, which has Queensland tying with South Australia for the State / Territory with the highest rate of obesity among adults (17.6%). South Australia, however, had a higher percentage of people not stating their body mass index, so it’s possible their obesity rate could be slightly higher than Queensland’s.
Whatever our exact ranking among Australian States, obesity is clearly an important health and economic issue for Queenslanders. Hence we should probably welcome efforts by the Queensland Government to encourage cycling and walking to work (e.g., through the proposed Development Code requirements for bike racks, change rooms, showers, etc in workplaces).