Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Australia's alleged "fat bomb"

I would rather like the report below to be true. It claims that Australians are extraordinarily fat. Since Australia has one of the world's longest life expectancies, it would help to slay the myth that obesity is unhealthy. Some skepticism about the report has already been expressed, however. The report comes from a nonprofit, not a university, so may simply be a trawl for funds. I have left it for a few days to say much about it as I wished to see details of the research first. The sample would appear to be far from random. I have however not so far been able to find the full report online. It is not linked from their home page and there has been some suggestion that their international comparisons are erroneous. The report is certainly deliberately deceitful in failing to note that it is extremes of weight rather than obesity which is unhealthy. The longest life expectancies are for people of middling weight. Not to put too fine a point on it, the alarmist claims of the report are total junk

AUSTRALIA has become the fattest nation in the world, with more than 9 million adults now rated as obese or overweight, according to an alarming new report. The most definitive picture of the national obesity crisis to date has found that Australians now outweigh Americans and face a future "fat bomb" that could cause 123,000 premature deaths over the next two decades. If the crisis is not averted, obesity experts have warned, health costs could top $6 billion and an extra 700,000 people will be admitted to hospital for heart attacks, strokes and blood clots caused by excess weight.

The latest figures show 4 million Australians - or 26% of the adult population - are now obese compared to an estimated 25% of Americans. A further 5 million Australians are considered overweight. The report, Australia's Future 'Fat Bomb', from Melbourne's Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute, will be presented at the Federal Government's inquiry into obesity, which comes to Melbourne today.

A grim picture is painted of expanding waistlines fuelled by a boom in fast food and a decline in physical activity, turning us into a nation of sedentary couch potatoes. Those most at risk of premature death are the middle-aged, with 70% of men and 60% of women aged 45 to 64 now classed as obese.

But some weight specialists have questioned the tool used to measure obesity, saying "entire rugby teams" would be classified as obese if their body mass index (BMI) was calculated. BMI is measured by dividing weight in kilograms by height in metres squared. A BMI of over 25 is considered overweight while more than 30 is obese. But the tool does not distinguish between muscle and fat, prompting calls for the BMI overweight limit to be raised to 28.

However, even leading nutritionist Jenny O'Dea from the University of Sydney - who recently claimed Australia's childhood obesity epidemic had been exaggerated - has backed the new figures, which suggest that the crisis for adults has been drastically underestimated. Professor O'Dea said that while being fat was not necessarily a health risk for everyone, there was no doubt obesity was taking its toll on the nation.

It was previously thought that around 3 million adults were obese. But many past surveys were seen as unreliable as they often required participants to guess their own weight. The latest data was based on more than 14,000 people at 100 rural and metropolitan sites in every Australian state and territory. Each had their BMI recorded by having their weight, height and waist measured as part of a national blood pressure screening day last year.

The report's lead author, Simon Stewart, said that even allowing for the BMI's potential failings, the best case scenario was that 3.6 million adults were battling obesity. "We could fill the MCG 40 times over with the number of obese Australians now, then you can double that if you look at the people who are also overweight - those are amazing figures," Professor Stewart said. "And in terms of a public health crisis, there is nothing to rival this. If we ran a fat Olympics we'd be gold medal winners as the fattest people on earth at the moment," he said. "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," Professor Steward said. "They're having children at an older age, if you're obese and you have a child do you really want to miss out on their wedding? "Do you want to miss out on the key events in their life? Yes you will if you don't do something about your weight now."

The obesity inquiry in Melbourne will be told that a national strategy encouraging overweight Australians to lose five kilograms in five months could reduce heart-related hospital admissions by 27% and cut deaths by 34% over the next 20 years. Among the radical solutions proposed in the report is a plan to make fat towns compete for "healthy" status in national weight loss contests tied to Federal Government funding. Towns that lost the most weight would be given cash to build sports centres and swimming pools. And like the "Tidy Towns" program, communities would have to meet targets to be eligible for a share of the funding pool.

Other suggestions from Professor Stewart's report include subsidised gym memberships, personal training sessions for heavier people and restricting weight loss surgery to those who show they can lose some weight on their own first.

One of Australia's leading obesity experts, Boyd Swinburn, will tell the inquiry in his own submission that a crackdown on junk food marketing to children is paramount in the fight against the epidemic. With the fastest growing rate of childhood obesity in the world, Australia must make radical changes to the way unhealthy food is promoted if the rate is to be reduced, his submission reads. Professor Swinburn, director of the World Health Organisation Collaborating Centre for Obesity Prevention at Deakin University, will argue that better nutritional labelling and more funding for effective treatments such as weight-loss surgery are also necessary. "We've got a huge problem here and we can't bury our head in the sand any more," Professor Swinburn will tell the inquiry. "The previous federal government blamed parents and individuals and told them to pull up their socks . that's not going to achieve anything but make us fatter as a nation. "It's good to see the Rudd Government take obesity seriously with this parliamentary inquiry and the preventative health strategy but that has to be turned into proper policy, regulation and funding."

Ian Caterson, director of the Institute of Obesity, Nutrition and Exercise at the University of Sydney, said innovative government "thinking outside the square" policies were necessary because, "as we get fatter and older as a nation things are just going to get worse."


There really is coffee in coffee-flavoured milk!

Whoda thunk it?

PARENTS have been warned that caffeine levels in some flavoured milks can be more than double the dose found in controversial energy drinks such as Red Bull. Some milk drinks contain up to three times the caffeine hit found in a regular cup of coffee, new research shows. The findings are a wake-up call to parents who buy flavoured milk, believing the drinks are healthy. The National Health and Medical Research Council warns against giving caffeine to children because it can cause disturbed sleep patterns, bed-wetting and anxiety.

Researchers at Griffith University tested more than 20 varieties of iced coffee-flavoured milk to discover the high caffeine content. "A lot of people think it is better for you because it is milk-based," Griffith University researcher Ben Desbrow said. "But actually it is worse." Mr Desbrow's team tested 20 iced coffee products three times over a month, to allow for changes in the product run. "After calculating an average we found several that had very high levels of caffeine per 100ml. But the issue is these products are sold in 500ml, 600ml or 750ml containers. "So if there is 35mg per 100ml, you could be getting more than 175mg of caffeine in a 500ml drink and more than 260mg of caffeine in a 750ml drink." A 250ml can of Red Bull contains 80mg of caffeine.

"Caffeine in iced coffee is considered a natural ingredient so manufacturers are not required to disclose the level of caffeine on the label," Mr Desbrow said. "The product only needs to state that it contains caffeine." "Manufacturers only need to say how much caffeine is contained in a product when it is added." Mr Desbrow said consumers, and especially parents, needed to be aware "because children could be consuming more than your average adult".

Caffeine affects the brain by dampening neuro transmitters that would normally make you sleepy, temporarily improving cognitive function and even athletic performance. The typical consumer drinks about 200mg to 300mg a day in two to three cups of coffee.

Tanya Geary, 28, of Aspley in Brisbane, said she would never give her two boys caffeine because "they would be bouncing off the walls". "But it is quite alarming to think there is that much in flavoured milk," she said.


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