Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

Junk food: opiate of the masses

By Andrew Gunn - posted Thursday, 7 May 2009

Australians are getting fatter. Obesity rates have more than doubled in the last couple of decades. This is bad news despite the misconceptions, if not big fat lies, about obesity. For instance, not everyone knows that carrying a little pudge is probably healthier than being skeletal.

Fat is expensive. A 2008 report for Diabetes Australia "guesstimated" that the current cost of obesity in Australia is $58 billion, comprising $8 billion in direct financial costs and $50 billion in lost quality life-years. Gross obesity does increase the risk of assorted diseases and injuries. On average, being extremely fat will take a few years off your life and cause a degree of personal misery. It even reduces fertility and harms fetuses.

Like many common “chronic conditions”, obesity is getting reframed as a “chronic disease”. Diseases need medicines or surgery. This might explain the eyebrow-raising at recent promising research into paying people to lose weight. Fixing fatness is now a big health care issue.


Obesity medications have proved, for the most part, largely ineffective if not downright dangerous. Several have been withdrawn due to life-threatening side-effects. Nonetheless, the manufacturers of fat-busting pills remain an unseen hand behind many public health obesity messages.

Fatness also supports a major surgical industry. The benefits of fat removal by liposuction are often short term and skin deep. Even extensive liposuction does not seem to reduce the risk of obesity-related conditions like diabetes or heart disease. The potential to create cosmetic disasters is ever present.

Bariatric surgery, an assortment of gastrointestinal modifications to reduce food intake and absorption, is becoming increasingly popular. Several studies suggest that it can extend lives when performed on the fattest people by the most experienced clinics. Nonetheless, this is major surgery and serious complications are common.

The Inverse Care Law operates with most medical treatments. In other words, availability is inversely proportional to need. Wealthy people who are somewhat obese can readily receive private bariatric surgery but this surgery is practically unobtainable, even for the incredibly obese, in most public hospitals.

This is not surprising. Surgeons make more money for less work operating on less obese private patients - the surgery is easier, the anaesthetic safer, the recovery better and you don’t even need as much help moving patients on and off the theatre trolley.

I vaguely recall ex-ironman Grant Kenny saying years ago that if he wrote a weight-loss book it would be no more than a couple of pages long and called something like “Eat less crap and get off your arse”. His advice was good although a lack of exercise is widely overrated as the cause of obesity. Many fat people do plenty of physical work. If you disagree, try getting off your own arse to drag a 30kg bag of fat around all day.


Fat is stored more easily in some people than others but there were no fat inmates in Nazi concentration camps. Eat very little, and you will be skinny. Eat too much, and you will be fat - especially if you are eating crap.

I might be a doctor but Supersize Me - the Big Mac binge movie - was an eye-opener. I had not thought a few weeks of dining exclusively at the Golden Arches would lay on ten kilograms, derange your liver function tests, raise your blood pressure, precipitate depression and make you impotent.

But, that said, few people are totally clueless about what is healthy food and what is not. These days, smokers know cigarettes are toxic but have them anyway. And, despite the often-deceptive advertising, people do not usually eat mountains of junk food thinking it is particularly good for them.

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. 2
  4. All

First published in Link Disability Magazine, April 2009.

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

11 posts so far.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

Dr Andrew Gunn is a Brisbane GP, editor of New Doctor, National Treasurer of the Doctors Reform Society and Senior Lecturer, School of Medicine, University of Queensland.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Andrew Gunn

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

Article Tools
Comment 11 comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy