Data reveals Shepparton’s weighty problem

By Morgan Dyer

New research has revealed 68 per cent of the Greater Shepparton population is overweight or obese.

Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows more than 30,000 Greater Shepparton adults are overweight or obese, and 30 per cent of the region’s youth aged two to 17 years are overweight or obese.

The research found the rate of obesity varied dramatically across Australia. People living in wealthier suburbs have a lower obesity percentage, while those living in low socio-economic areas — usually regional communities at substantial distances from metropolitan centres — had a higher percentage of people overweight or obese.

Goulburn Valley Community Health dietitian Hannah Vass said the issue was a complex topic and there were a great number of external influences that affected an individual’s behaviour.

“It’s not just as easy as saying it's an individual’s choice,” Ms Vass said.

“There a lot of social factors, including access to healthy food at an affordable price and food security-type issues, as energy-dense high calorie foods can be cheaper and more accessible to people.

“There is also the element of having an environment that supports physical activities in everyday life, like having safe parks, sporting facilities and places that encourage people to be active.”

In the past 10 years, more Australians then ever have placed themselves at a higher risk of diabetes, cancer, heart disease, arthritis and dementia as the national obesity rate grew by 27 per cent.

Ms Vass said all levels of government had a role to play in keeping Australians fit and healthy.

“Making healthy food the easy choice, so that can come down to making sure new housing estates have easy access to supermarkets or limiting the amount of fast food outlets that are given permits.”

Ms Vass said it was also important for workplaces and schools to think healthy, and for governments to build environments for physical activity including parks and walkways.

“It’s about making the environment conducive to health rather than an environment that makes it easier to contribute to obesity,” she said.

“There’s a lot more preventive work to be done — there’s been big education campaigns and people's head knowledge is possibly there, but support within our environment isn’t.”

The data, extracted from the Mitchell Institute at Victoria University, highlighted the need for governments to look at policies around processed foods more broadly.

Ms Vass said the idea could be a way to diminish a high sugar and salt intake.

“Not only would a sugar tax make healthier choices more affordable, it could also ideally make companies reformulate their products, so they avoid the tax,” she said.

For information about the data, visit the Mitchell Institute's website