Australia's Biggest Killer

Australia’s biggest killer is in your house right now

It’s widely known Australia’s wildlife can be dangerous, but there is an even bigger killer in most households that many of us are unaware of its devastating impact.

That killer is the couch.

Australia has become accustomed to sitting down – at work, on the couch, in the car – and it’s taking a major toll on the health of individuals and our economy.

Australia’s increasingly sedentary lifestyle is part of the complex and widespread problem of obesity and other related health diseases, which contribute to the death of more than 7200 people each year .

The APA’s ‘Australia’s Biggest Killers’ campaign aims to get Australians off the couch – and get moving and embrace healthy, active lifestyles.

For anyone at risk of being obese or overweight, an APA physiotherapist can help.

Obesity in Australia – what’s the impact?

Obesity prevalence has more than doubled over the past 20 years, with the condition assuming the mantle of the biggest threat to our nation’s public health.

Obesity and overweight is the leading cause of premature death and illness in Australia.

Fourteen million Australians are currently overweight or obese. The Monash Obesity and Diabetes Institute has found that if weight gain continues at current levels, by 2025, close to 80 per cent of all Australian adults and a third of all children will be overweight or obese.

The Monash Obesity and Diabetes Institute also found that obesity has overtaken smoking as the leading cause of premature death and illness in Australia, and has become the single biggest threat to public health in Australia.

Currently, Australia spends between $1 billion to $4 billion annually in treating overweight and obesity-related disease.

Overweight and obesity are major risk factors for non-communicable conditions like:

  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Some types of cancer
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Kidney disease
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Endometrial, breast, and colon cancers
  • Mental health and eating disorders.

How to tell if you are at risk of being overweight or obese?

Overweight or obesity is measured by various means, but the most common methods used are Body Mass Index (BMI) and Waist Circumference.

If you have a BMI of the following values, you may be at risk of being overweight or obese:

  • Overweight is a BMI of 25 to 29.9
  • Obese is a BMI of 30 to 39.9
  • Severely obese is a BMI of 40 or above

Or, if you are a male and have a waist circumference of 94cm (37 inches) or more, or a woman with a waist circumference of 80cm (31 inches) or more, you are more likely to develop obesity-related health problems.

Combatting the issue – it all starts with getting active

Australia’s sedentary culture is part of the complex and widespread problem of obesity and other related health diseases.

Research shows more than 6.4 million Australians are doing less than an hour and a half of physical activity a week . Research also shows time spent sitting is associated with being overweight or obese, unhealthy blood-glucose and blood-lipid profiles, and with premature death from heart disease.

We all need to be moving more – not just exercising 30 minutes – but regularly throughout the day. Mounting evidence shows even basic regular movement like standing up while at work can help prevent health issues like obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and even cancer. 

However while diet and physical activity are key to reducing obesity in Australia, there are a range and combination of factors contributing to weight gain: social, environmental, behavioural, genetic and physiological and psychological factors also affect whether we maintain healthy lifestyles.

Tackling this issue requires an integrated and consumer-centred approach. People need a range of information, education, support and resources to help them identify and tackle the causes of their weight gain and help make long-term changes to people’s quality of life. Those at risk also need help to overcome barriers to weight management, avoid short-term ‘quick-fixes’, and focus on health and wellbeing rather than the number of kilograms lost or gained.

The skills and resources of a range of health care providers, community groups and service providers, governments and industry need to be engaged to provide an integrated approach. Physiotherapists are in an ideal position to be a major part this group.

Physios are key to tackling Australia’s biggest killer

As experts in physical activity, weight management, heart disease and diabetes prevention, it is no wonder physiotherapists are increasingly playing a vital role in treating individuals for being overweight or obese as well as sharing the broader public health prevention message.

A recent pilot study found 81 per cent of physiotherapists viewed weight management as a component of their scope of practice and 85 per cent reported they had engaged in weight management strategies with their patients.

Physiotherapists with their education, training and competence in behaviour change, biomechanics, therapeutic exercise and a wide range of other relevant experience, knowledge and skills are ideally suited to identify, manage and prevent obesity.

Healthcare professionals including physios, GPs, psychologists and dieticians need to work more in partnership to support individuals who are or are at risk of being overweight and obese.

How a physio can help

APA Physiotherapists frequently design exercise programs for people from all walks of life to maintain active lifestyles. For individuals who are obese or overweight, a physio can identify and prescribe programs most suited to their medical condition, and coordinate comprehensive obesity management programs. They can help develop a program of exercise to increase your physical activity safely and effectively, and help identify necessary and achievable changes in your lifestyle.

Physiotherapists also prescribe, lead and implement therapeutic exercise and education classes for groups and individuals who have been diagnosed with or are at risk of developing chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, cardiorespiratory, vascular and musculoskeletal conditions. Physiotherapists also have the skills to care before and after surgery to treat obesity, or bariatric surgery.

An initial referral to a physio can be a good way to get someone started with short-term goals, with a view to supporting the person in a longer-term program to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Help up spread the message

Download digital resources to spread the message.
A3 Australia's Biggest Killers
A3 Killer Couch

Are aches and pains holding you back from physical activity?

Speak to an APA Physiotherapist, click here to find one in your area.