Pockets of disadvantage feeding Canberra's obesity, smoking rates in Oaks Estate, Tuggeranong, Belconnen
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Pockets of disadvantage feeding Canberra's obesity, smoking rates in Oaks Estate, Tuggeranong, Belconnen

The Oaks Estate, Tuggeranong and Belconnen are home to the national capital's highest rates of smokers, obese and overweight residents, with a series of factors creating pockets of disadvantage that are driving up chronic disease rates.

A report released last week by the Australian Health Policy Collaboration has measured a range of chronic disease risk factors by "public health areas" nationwide.

Three areas in Canberra have smoking rates above the national average.

Three areas in Canberra have smoking rates above the national average.

It confirmed all three areas had rates of "overweight or obese" people higher than the national average of 63.4%, while all other areas of the city were below the average.

In Fyshwick-Pialligo-Hume, home to the Oaks Estate, that rate was 75.8 percent; 68 per cent in Tuggeranong and 64.7 per cent in Belconnen, while the inner south and northern suburbs had the lowest rates in Canberra at 54.7 per cent and 58.9 per cent, respectively.

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Andrea Gledhill coordinates the ACT's Connect Up 4 Kids program, a health service helping GPs teach parents to make sure their kids are eating healthily, reducing childhood obesity in Canberra.

Andrea Gledhill coordinates the ACT's Connect Up 4 Kids program, a health service helping GPs teach parents to make sure their kids are eating healthily, reducing childhood obesity in Canberra.Credit:Rohan Thomson

Those three areas also had the highest smoking rates in Canberra, at 25.9 per cent in Fyshwick-Pialligo-Hume, 15.3 per cent in Tuggeranong and 14.1 per cent in Belconnen - all above the national 12.8 per cent average, against a backdrop of all other areas recording rates slightly below the national average for current smokers.

The data also showed the inner south had the highest "risky drinking" rate in the city, at 19.6 per cent, compared to the national average of 18.2 per cent, while most areas of the city were below the national average. Gungahlin stood out, with the lowest rate of risky drinking of all areas of Canberra, at 10.9 per cent.

ACT Council of Social Services chief Susan Helyer said the data showed that a range of factors linked to disadvantage, from educational attainment to transport options, job security and lower incomes, were creating a "growing inequality" in the capital.

"What this demonstrates is Canberra has a significant problem with inequality and it's a growing inequality," she said.

"While the averages (in the data) look good, we've got this growing gap between those at the least disadvantaged end of the spectrum compared with those at the bottom."

"These are people who have poor access to transport, lower incomes and either not enough hours to make ends meet or insecure temporary work," she said.

"It's a group of people who are stuck in an economy where they simply can't compete in the labour market and they get stuck, and that then becomes an intergenerational risk for the next generation."

Capital Health Network "ConnectUp4Kids" program coordinator Andrea Gledhill agreed generally with Ms Helyar's comments.

But she said obesity problems were complex and it may not be entire areas like Tuggeranong or Belconnen, but smaller pockets within those town centres, partly due to the way the city was planned and built.

Mrs Gledhill works with GPs around the ACT in an effort to help the parents of overweight children improve their eating and exercise habits.

She said while she understood there were higher rates of overweight and obese people in Tuggeranong and Belconnen, overall the ACT was doing well to address the issues.

"Obesity is a really complex health issue to measure and understand and it's often a multitude of factors driving it - it could be as simple for some families as having both parents working full-time, easy access to fast food and a lack of time to prepare healthier options at home."

The data released in the AHPC report also revealed what residents of different areas of the city were dying from, over the period 2009 to 2013.

It showed cardio-vascular disease-related deaths were, perhaps, less directly related to outright socio-economic status, with the inner north having the highest (age-standardised) rate at 69.7 deaths per 100,000 people while Tuggeranong was second at 52.7 and the inner south was third at 44.1

But cancer-related deaths were again higher in the obesity and smoking hotspots of Tuggeranong and Belconnen - with 130.7 deaths per 100,000 ASR and 116.5 in each area, respectively.

Daniel Burdon is a reporter for The Canberra Times

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