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Inequalities in overweight and obesity and the social determinants of health: 2007–08 to 2017–18

Obesity Social determinants of health Preventative health Public health Australia

Overweight and obesity is a major public health issue in Australia. It is associated with poorer health and wellbeing and an increased risk of chronic disease and associated health-care costs. In 2017–18, around 2 in 3 (67%) Australians aged 18 and over, and 1 in 4 (25%) children and adolescents aged 5–17, were overweight or obese.

Overweight and obesity can be influenced by individual factors—such as the type of food people eat and how much physical activity they do—as well as by other factors, including the environment and society in which they live. Social determinants of health—the circumstances in which people grow, live, work and age—can strengthen or undermine the health of individuals and communities. Therefore, social inequalities and disadvantage often contribute to unfair and avoidable differences in health outcomes across groups in society.

This report examines the associations between overweight and obesity and factors that include a person’s level of education, occupation, household income and household make-up. It brings together data from 4 National Health Surveys (NHSs) held between 2007–08 and 2017–18 to examine how the prevalence of overweight and obesity has changed for children and adolescents aged 5–17, working age Australians aged 18–64 and older Australians aged 65 and over.

Overall, it finds that people with higher levels of education are less likely to be overweight or obese. Living in major cities and in homes that are owned outright may also be associated with a reduced likelihood of overweight and obesity.

This report identifies various social determinants and their associations with overweight and obesity. Social and health factors are complex and interconnected. Understanding them and how they underpin overweight and obesity can help policy makers and health providers develop more targeted strategies to reduce inequalities and improve health-related outcomes.

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