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Marcus Dripps

Physiotherapists play an important role across the lifespan and in many different healthcare settings. Our interactions with patients provide us with many opportunities to discuss health messages that may not be central to the purpose of the interaction. It is part of entry-level physiotherapy training to learn about health promotion, but do we always pull our weight in this endeavour?

Across many states and territories there has been an increasing focus on the growing problem of so-called lifestyle-related disorders, and many government and non-government groups have started conversations with their communities about the growing problem of obesity. The effect of Australia’s increasing body mass on health is startling—it is suggested that 60 per cent of adults and 25 per cent of children have higher-than-ideal body weight.

Recent evidence is leaning more towards dietary intake than physical activity levels as being the primary driver of this change. The rate of change over the last 15 years appears to be accelerating, and addressing this issue will not be simple, but will require a multifactorial approach. So what role do physiotherapists have in addressing this challenge?

Obviously a lot of physiotherapy practice is involved in addressing barriers to movement, function, and participation—this is the natural space for physiotherapists to play a role in addressing the current health and risks to the future health of our patients. In many settings a broader role is also possible. In my recent visits to practices and departments, I have seen examples of physiotherapists working with employers and workplaces to introduce initiatives to increase the health of workers. I have seen examples of practices engaged in community outreach programs to play a role in education of their communities. I have seen partnerships with gyms, trainers, and recreational facilities to attempt to get the message out to as broad a section of the community as possible.

The evidence base about successful programs to address obesity issues suggests that local engagement is one of the keys to success. I encourage all physiotherapists to become engaged in your communities to play a role in addressing this issue, which affects the whole society.

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