A person's legs, wearing sports shoes.

7 ways to tackle obesity

5 October 2017

Ahead of World Obesity Day, University of Sydney experts offer their advice on how to address the global obesity crisis now, to avoid the consequences later. 

‘Act now’ is the key message of this year’s World Obesity Day on Wednesday 11 October 2017.

Here, seven University of Sydney researchers – among world leaders in tackling the global burden of obesity – offer their evidence-based advice on how to address this global issue to reduce future economic and human costs.

1. Build a modern obesity movement

“No simple solution or medical intervention will solve the global obesity crisis,” says Professor Stephen Simpson, Academic Director of the Charles Perkins Centre and from the School of Life and Environmental Sciences.

“We need to build a modern obesity movement that addresses the complex web of interacting factors in which the individual sits at the nexus of a network of biological, social, societal and environmental forces that together impact their risk of disease.

“Advising people to eat less and move more, or hoping for a magic pill, simply won’t cut it.”

A watch.

It's time: tackle obesity now, rather than waiting to treat the co-morbidities later.

2. Act now to reduce costs later

President of the World Obesity Federation Professor Ian Caterson says the annual medical costs of treating the consequences of obesity such as diabetes and heart disease is truly alarming.

“Continual surveillance by World Obesity has shown how obesity prevalence has risen dramatically over the past 10 years.

“With an estimated 177 million adults with severe obesity in need of treatment by 2025, it is clear that governments need to act now to reduce this burden on their national economies,” the Director of the Boden Institute of Obesity, Nutrition, Exercise & Eating Disorders at the Charles Perkins Centre says.

3. Heed public support for government intervention

Professor Stephen Colagiuri from the Boden Institute of Obesity, Nutrition, Exercise & Eating Disorders at the Charles Perkins Centre recently surveyed Australian public support for government intervention on obesity. He says:

“The results indicate the majority of the Australian population – 92 percent of respondents – recognises obesity to be a serious public health problem, and almost 90 percent supports government regulation of our food environment. 70 percent of respondents agreed the government should regulate food and beverage advertising, with 79 percent supporting regulation restricting television advertising to children. Support for prohibiting food company sponsorship of children’s sport was 59 percent, and 55 percent for taxing sugar-sweetened beverages.

“Support for fiscal policies slightly increased if the revenue was to be used for health purposes – an outcome our policymakers should heed.

“These results show the majority of the adult population supports definitive action on obesity. The government is out of step with public opinion about the necessity for government intervention.”

A man measuring his waist with measuring tape.

Lose excess weight sooner rather than later.

4. Lose excess weight sooner rather than later

Associate Professor Amanda Salis from the Boden Institute of Obesity, Nutrition, Exercise & Eating Disorders at the Charles Perkins Centre says early intervention is crucial.

“It’s possible we only have a limited window of opportunity in which to do something about excess weight. After this time, carrying excess weight may become ‘hard wired’ into the parts of the brain that regulate body weight, and it may be almost impossible to make any changes at all. The sooner any small excess in body weight is addressed, the more likely it is that it can be reversed, thereby helping to prevent the progression to a much higher BMI and morbid obesity.”

5. Lose weight in small increments

“While most diets were invented from the 1980s onwards, obesity rates have trebled since then. Yet every time a diet fails, it becomes harder and harder for the body to lose weight the next time we try,” says Dr Nick Fuller from the Boden Institute of Obesity, Nutrition, Exercise & Eating Disorders at the Charles Perkins Centre.

My Interval Weight Loss approach encourages weight loss in small increments. The goal is to lose a small amount of weight and then to take a break, maintaining the new body weight for a period of time before losing another small amount. Rather than activating the body’s fight or flight response, the body is gently challenged to redefine its baseline body weight until the final weight-loss goal is achieved.”

A person drinking from a plastic cup with a straw.

A new study will examine the dietry behaviours of young adults.

6. Engage young adults with targeted health campaigns

Professor Margaret Allman-Farinelli from the School of Life and Environmental Sciences and Charles Perkins Centre is part of research collaboration to learn more about a typical day in a young adult’s life.

“Prevention is always better than cure, but we have somewhat forgotten younger adults in our health promotion efforts. We’ve already developed and tested a smartphone healthy lifestyle program for young adults with promising outcomes. Now the MYMeals study – funded by the Australian Research Council and Cancer Council NSW – is recruiting 1,000 18-to-30-year-olds from diverse backgrounds across NSW to learn about the how, what, why and with whom of their dietary behaviours, in order to develop messages, build better programs and advocate for policies that protect against obesity.”

7. Understand the gut microbiome

Associate Professor Andrew Holmes from the School of Life and Environmental Sciences and Charles Perkins Centre believes the role of the gut microbiome could be crucial.

“Obesity is fairly fundamentally related to your long-term diet habits – but everybody responds to food differently. Our gut microbiome is a big part of what makes us all different in our response to food. As we enter the era of personalised medicine we can expect microbiome profiles to be a part of our use of diets to control blood glucose, weight loss and even more.”

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