Obesity challenge is a national issue

Over the next 30 years more Australians will have their lives cut short by the obesity epidemic than climate change, terrorism, road trauma or any of the other hot topics driving the national agenda.

We are fourth in the OECD when it comes to obesity and fifth when it comes to being overweight in general. More than two-thirds of all adults are "above a healthy weight" and almost a third of us are obese. At least a quarter of our children, about 1.2 million youngsters, are overweight or obese.

Given overweight children often become overweight adults this does not augur well. The implications for future budgets are dire. Obesity-related illnesses, including type 2 diabetes, cost the economy $8.6 billion in 2011.

Greens leader Dr Richard Di Natale, who wants politicians banned from receiving donations from fast food and soft drink companies, has warned we will be "the first generation to hand over a lower life expectancy to our kids than the one we enjoyed" if nothing is done to turn the ship around.

The big question, and one individuals frequently ask themselves around this time of year, is "what are we going to do about it?".

While millions of us will enter 2019 vowing to eat less and move more, only a small proportion will make good on that.

Many Australians are trapped in a calorie-rich, time-poor world which literally conditions them to gain weight as a result of numerous factors beyond their control.

When the British Government commissioned a "mind map" to chart the factors, including media inputs, food availability, psychological forces, exercise opportunities, and the types of nutrition being offered through fast food chains and supermarkets, that contribute to obesity the result looked like a map of the galaxy.

It is not enough for leaders, family members and peers, to tell individuals all they need to do is to cut down on the calories and spend more time on the bike, going for runs or working out in the gym.

Busy individuals locked into high-cost housing and facing extended daily commutes that leave them exhausted when they finally get home easily fall into the trap of grabbing some takeaway as the easy dinner option.

Body shaming is not the answer. We need to work out what can be done to make it easier for people to eat healthily and to incorporate sustainable exercise into their lives.

The work-life balance, how we structure paid employment and the development of exercise-friendly infrastructure, such as neighbourhood parks and bicycle and walking paths, are all high on the list of things that need to be looked at.

Much can also be done in the short term by taking on the sugar and fast food lobbies. The British have achieved good results with the introduction of a sugar tax.

It would also make sense to restrict fast food advertising given many of the television programs watched by children have a lot of fast food sponsorship.

The rise of global obesity has reflected significant changes in how we live and work. The only way we can hope to reverse the trend is by adopting a holistic, community-based approach that supports individuals on their weight loss journey.