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Getting to grips with obesity

By Kevin Norton - posted Friday, 13 April 2007

An array of programs targeting fitness and healthy eating have so far failed to translate into reduced obesity levels. This article discusses the current trends and the developed world’s search for solutions to a problem with dire health, social and economic consequences.

In the obesity debate many people question why the issue is such a big deal - after all, we are living longer, so, superficially at least, it may seem that we’re doing well. But, the percentage of our lives spent as disability-free-years, or free from chronic illness, is decreasing. Where 20 years ago a woman might expect to live, on average, to 78 with about eight years disabled, now the life expectancy is 82 but evidence shows that the number of years lived without chronic illness and disability have not increased.

These extending years of disability are not only costly in human terms but, on a nation’s health budget, they are an onerous financial burden. With so many people in an ageing demographic, the baby boomers and those who follow, we can clearly see growing numbers suffering chronic illness and less and less people around to look after them.


Overweight, obesity, and physical inactivity are clearly major risk factors for chronic illness such as heart disease, diabetes and some cancers.

Despite the fact that this health crisis is occurring, no country around the world has yet successfully halted overweight and obesity trends.

Technological advances and automation have seen an enormous reduction in incidental activity over the bulk of a typical day. We have work places that are all but designed to kill people - purposely discouraging any movement.

Quality of diet is important as is not overeating, but exercise is critical and the challenge is to increase physical activity to counter the results of reduced incidental activity.

No food for example can increase the size and strength of the heart, increase blood vessel compliance, stimulate growth of new blood vessels, nor strengthen muscles and bone without parallel physical activity programs.

An essential element of addressing inactivity is working out how to bring activity back into our way of life.


In reviewing studies worldwide including those of the Australian Government, CDC, World Health Organisation and Chochrane Reviews, there emerges recommendations of the most cost-effective and results-based options for increasing physical activity.

Highly rated among these “best-buys” are school-based programs where intervention is most effective - particularly when compared to efforts to change adult behaviour, which is far more difficult.

Although there is much argument about what level of influence the school programs will have when children mature into adults, what we do know to be fact is that at least 80 per cent of obese children will become obese adults.

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Prof Kevin Norton of Sport Knowledge Australia (SKA) will lead a seminar in Sydney on April 17, 2007 dedicated to policy development issues surrounding the obesity epidemic in Australia. For more information go here.

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About the Author

Professor Kevin Norton is Director of Knowledge Services for Sport Knowledge Australia. He is a renowned expert on physical fitness, and the author of a recent study tracking childhood obesity trends over a 100-year period.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Kevin Norton

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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