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Inequalities and social detriments could be a factor in obesity among Australians

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Australians with lower levels of education, living in inner regional areas, or paying off a mortgage or renting, are more likely to be overweight or obese, according to a new report, Inequalities in overweight and obesity and the social determinants of health, by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

The report brings together data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ National Health Surveys held between 2007–08 and 2017–18 to look at associations between overweight and obesity with the social determinants of health—the circumstances in which people grow, live, work and age.

‘Social determinants of health that can strengthen or undermine the health of individuals include a person’s level of education, occupation, household income and household make-up, but the strength of the association between some of these factors with overweight or obesity is unclear,’ said AIHW spokesperson, Richard Juckes.

“For example, when we looked at the types of work Australians do, sales workers, labourers, technicians and trades workers, managers, and machinery operators and drivers, had higher rates of overweight or obesity than those in professional occupations.” Juckes explained, “However, differences in overweight and obesity by occupation were no longer evident when other factors such as age, sex, education, and where people were born or live were considered.”

“What we did find from a detailed analysis that controlled for some of the confounding factors, is that overweight and obesity was lowest for working-age Australians who held a bachelor degree or higher qualification and generally highest for those who had not completed or attended secondary school, or had a certificate III/IV, even after considering other factors,” he added.

“Furthermore, after controlling for some of the confounding factors, overweight and obesity was about 1.2 times higher for those paying off a mortgage or renting than those who owned their home, and about 1.2 times higher for those living in inner regional areas than those living in major cities,” Juckes said.

Overweight and obesity is associated with poorer health and wellbeing and an increased risk of chronic disease and associated healthcare costs. In 2017–18, around 2 in 3 (67%) Australians aged 18 and over, and 1 in 4 (25%) children and adolescents aged 5–17, were overweight or obese.

“Social and health factors are complex and interconnected. Understanding them and how they underpin overweight and obesity can help policy makers and health providers develop more targeted strategies to reduce inequalities and improve health-related outcomes,” Juckes said.