If at risk populations reduced their weight by a little as three kilograms, Australia could avoid 14 per cent of disease related to being overweight and obese in 2020, a new study has found.
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report, Impact of overweight and obesity as a risk factor for chronic conditions: Australian Burden of Disease Study, shows relatively small changes can have a big impact.
The new findings look at the health impact of excess weight in terms of years of healthy life lost through living with an illness or injury, or through dying prematurely.
"Our weight is our second biggest risk factor in terms of the health 'burden', accounting for 7 per cent," AIHW spokesperson Dr Lynelle Moon said.
It's second only to tobacco, which accounts for 9 per cent of the burden, but the gap between the two is narrowing as the burden of obesity rises.
If all Australians at risk of disease due to being overweight or obesity reduced their body mass index by just one point ??? or about three kilograms for a person of average height ??? the overall health impact would drop by 14 per cent in 2020.
However Dr Moon said even if the rising rates were halted and Australians maintained their weight, about 6 per cent of the disease burden would be avoided.
The report analysed 22 diseases linked to weight. These included 11 types of cancer, cardiovascular conditions and other linked diseases such as asthma, dementia and gout.
Notably, about half of the diabetes burden, 53 per cent, and of the osteoarthritis burden, 45 per cent, were due to being overweight or obese.
Large inequalities were found across socioeconomic groups. The lowest socioeconomic group experienced more than double the rate of burden due to weight than the highest socioeconomic group.
The report modelled which demographics would stand to benefit most from a national slim-down.
Children aged between 5 and 14 years, a relatively small group, could experience a 34 per cent drop in the weight-related disease burden. This could put downward pressure on the estimated $17 million spent annually on the fifth of Australian preschoolers that are overweight.
The largest gains in disease burden would be seen in the 65-74 age group, saving 5379 years of healthy life lost either through premature death or living with an illness or injury.