The West Moreton region has a 13 per cent higher rate of obesity than the Queensland average.
The West Moreton region has a 13 per cent higher rate of obesity than the Queensland average.

Big changes needed to tackle city’s high obesity levels

AN IPSWICH researcher believes broad social reform to address unemployment, high housing costs and low education levels is needed before Ipswich can even begin to tackle its worrying levels of obesity.

The numbers aren’t good and if it isn’t addressed, rates of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke and some cancers will only rise.

The West Moreton region has a 13 per cent higher rate of obesity than the Queensland average.

University of Southern Queensland's Dr Aletha Ward.
University of Southern Queensland's Dr Aletha Ward.

According to the 2019 Regional Year Book released by the Federal Government, 72 per cent of the Ipswich population is overweight or obese.

It was 78.3 per cent in 2014-15.

This is the third highest rate of obesity of any community in Queensland.

Dr Aletha Ward is an academic, researcher and lecturer with the University of Southern Queensland’s Centre for Health Research.

Dr Ward completed a PhD last year which explored the link between food insecurity and the city’s high levels of obesity.

She has been exploring these issues locally for the past five years.

“One of the things that I’ve found that was really interesting in my research is that mild to moderate food insecurity is actually linked to obesity,” she said.

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“What that means is that people who don’t have the resources can often still find food to purchase but maybe it’s not the most nutritionally viable food.

“It’s often high in fat, high in carbs and low in nutrients.

“We also have higher rates of social and economic drivers in the Ipswich region. We have slightly higher unemployment, lower education levels. There’s higher levels of renting and higher rates of single parent households.

“Food insecurity is actually driving obesity rates in the Ipswich region.

“The picture is coming together. We’ve got higher obesity rates, higher disease rates and we have really high risk factors for mild to moderate food insecurity.

“I looked at six different food insecurity risk factors and we had significantly higher risk factors in five of those groupings than the rest of Australia.”

Dr Ward believed it was going to take all levels of government supporting community-driven reform to address underlying issues to see any meaningful change.

A rapidly growing population set to double in the next 20 years will only add extra strain. More than 500,000 people are expected to live in Ipswich by 2040.

The economic impact of COVID-19 will also play its part.

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“This is about all levels of government working together to address those inequities,” she said.

“That in itself will actually influence our obesity levels.

“Traditionally with obesity it’s very individually focused. If you’re overweight or obese (you’re told) ‘go do some exercise and eat better’.

“What this research is saying is it’s much bigger than that.

“Our community is under a lot of stress due to these social and economic factors including our mental health stress.

“It’s easier to go and buy poor nutrient, fat dense foods.”

Dr Ward said the demand on the local health care system was only going to rise in coming years.

“With everything else that’s occurring now with these disease rates and obesity-driven disease rates particularly, our healthcare system is really quite vulnerable,” she said.

Read more stories by Lachlan McIvor here.



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