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The skinny on 'fat' Australia

  • 23 June 2008
'If we ran a fat Olympics we'd be gold medal winners,' says Simon Stewart, of the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute. According to the Institute's new report, Australia's Future 'Fat Bomb', we are the fattest nation in the world. More than 9 million Australian adults rate as overweight.

'In terms of a public health crisis, there is nothing to rival this,' Professor Stewart, the report's lead author, told The Age. 'We've heard of AIDS orphans in Africa, we're looking at this time bomb going off where parents have to think about this carefully.'

Sloth and the prevalence of fast food cop the blame for Australia's bulging bellies. But that really translates to one thing: our lives of excess — in particular, excessive comfort and consumption — are catching up with us.

Clearly it's time we lift our game. Obesity comes from individual style of living, but it has an impact on society, not least through productivity and health expenditure. However, the public issues can be addressed only by personal change.

But weight loss is a tricky topic. There are myriad benefits and numerous pitfalls.

When someone sets out to lose weight and reaches that goal, it is an achievement. But if the achievement is viewed as a defining characteristic, that person's sense of worth can become invested wholly it in. Their holistic value can be diminished.

At root we need to encourage a broader sense of self than that related to body shape. A proper image of human happiness and virtue has many dimensions, of which a healthy body is one.

Another problem is that in Western society, health and fitness has become a commodity. It's the subject of television shows. Healthy eating regimes are sold to us via commercial channels. We pay to join gyms, and invest in the appropriate fitness wear.

In other words, we consume in order to lose weight. Like addicts substituting one drug for another — and there's no doubt dieting can be as addictive as overeating — we simply replace the object of our consumption, and fail to acknowledge that excessive consumption was the problem in the first place.

An emphasis on moderation, rather than excess, in the area of diet can shed light more generally on the excesses of our lives, and help us reflect seriously upon the ways in which these excesses impact upon the general lack experienced in many other nations.

All the above notwithstanding, it is hard to encourage