Despite years of warnings, Australians continue to show scant regard for advice about the need to reduce their intake of junk food in order to avoid weight gain and so reduce their risk of diabetes and heart disease. It is enough to turn diabetes prevention and awareness experts to drink.
While rates of obesity have skyrocketed in recent years, second only to the United States in fact, the Australian Diabetes, Obesity and Lifestyle Study has found that Australians continue to pile on the weight, with people between 25 and 34 among the worst culprits. The study found that over a 12-year interval, the Generation Y cohort put on 6.7 kilograms, more than any other age group. For those between 35 and 44, the average gain was 4.7 kilograms, followed by 2.7 kilograms for people aged 45-54. The baby boomers, those aged 55-64, performed best, putting on only 0.4 kilograms.
Why Gen Y individuals are putting on weight faster than other age groups remains a matter of some conjecture, though the "bulletproof'' mentality of younger people could be a reason. An increasingly sedentary lifestyle and a drop-off in participation in team sports - a common enough life progression for people in their 20s - could also be factors. Whatever the reason, it is cause for alarm: weight gained in the late 20s often proves difficult or impossible to shift, thus increasing the propensity for developing diabetes in middle age. Disadvantaged and low-income Australians who live in the country or on city fringes - where access to healthcare and prevention is not ideal - are particularly susceptible.
The good news, according to associate director of the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute Jonathan Shaw, is that the 20s and 30s are an age when weight problems can most easily be turned around. Certainly the adult fitness options are far more varied than they were two decades ago. Motivation, however, remains a problem, as does the availability and relentless advertising of junk food. With the siren call of the advertisers continuing to overwhelm government health messages, expect health professionals to step up their demands for more direct intervention in the sale of junk food.
Gay New Zealand leads way
In April, New Zealand became the first country in the Asia-Pacific region - and just the 14th in the world - to legalise same-sex marriage. As the more patriotic among progressive Kiwis would remind us, New Zealand was also the first country in the world to grant women the right to vote and the first in the English-speaking world to provide a state-funded old age pension.
When the country's Marriage Equality Bill finally came into effect on Monday, more than 30 couples (some of them from Australia and the United States) vied for the honour of being the first gay people to marry in the Shaky Isles. The enterprising folk at Tourism New Zealand took advantage of the worldwide media coverage by tying a major promotion campaign to the flurry of marriage ceremonies.
ACT Deputy Chief Minister Andrew Barr may have been among those taking notes since he has said the territory's economy could benefit substantially from an influx of cashed-up gay and lesbian couples coming here to marry. The lack of a marriage equality bill on the Assembly's statute books remains a major obstacle to such ambitions, of course. As does the fact that the Coalition (led by the socially conservative Tony Abbott) looks likely to win the federal election.
Nothing prevents the states from enacting their own marriage equality bills, however, and (unlike the ACT) there would be no risk that these laws could be overturned by a vote of the Federal Parliament. Despite this - and a shift in public opinion - enthusiasm for reform remains tentative among politicians. However, with New Zealand showing the way (again) and Prime Minister Kevin Rudd appearing to embrace marriage equality, the prospects of a same-sex marriage ceremony occurring somewhere in Australia in the near future have firmed.