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It’s the most challenging public health issue facing our generation.


The result of not just too much food, but too much of the wrong food and not enough physical activity.

The fifth report of Queensland’s Chief Health Officer, The health of Queenslanders 2014, has found more than half of the state’s population is overweight or obese. That’s two-thirds of adults and a quarter of all children.

‘It’s very serious. In the last 20 years there’s been a doubling of the rate of obesity here in Queensland and unfortunately now we’re amongst one of the fattest nations in the world. We’re approaching the United States levels’.

Queensland is facing an unprecedented surge of chronic disease: stroke, heart attack, diabetes, cancer and hypertension.

Dr Young says the health system is facing an unrelenting burden unless everyone begins to take responsibility for their own health and fitness.

‘Unfortunately it’s not the medical community that can really make the difference; it’s all aspects of society. So it’s all levels of government, it’s our food producers, it’s our advertisers, it’s our urban planners, it’s every aspect of society that needs to work together to solve this’.

Queensland’s Department of Health is addressing the problem with its award winning Healthier. Happier. campaign. More than just advertising, it engages individuals to discover their health age by using an online calculator and downloading an app that helps measure food intake and physical activity. Recipe cards and exercise videos are all freely available online to encourage people to change their behaviour.

Workplace wellness programs promoting exercise breaks, staff gyms, standing desks and healthy food vending machines are also playing a role in educating businesses and their staff to be healthier.

‘We just need to look at what we eat everyday. There’s nothing wrong with occasionally eating those foods that we all know are unhealthy, but you can’t have a permanent diet of those foods. You’ve really got to stick with the fruit, the vegetables, lean protein, fish, meat, eggs. You’ve really got to look at what you’re eating and follow the Australian dietary guidelines. They’re there for a purpose and they need to be adhered to if you’re going to heave a healthy diet’.

Queenslanders drink more alcohol than the national average but despite that disturbing fact Dr Young says there is good news.

‘Unfortunately Queensland has one of the highest rates of alcohol misuse, if I can put it like that, in the world. But, we’ve got some early signs that it might be getting better in our younger men, which is great news. Still a long way to go, we’re still amongst the worst, but at least its trending to a better space’.

That same age group of young men is also leading the way in cutting smoking rates among the half a million smokers in Queensland.

Rates have been declining for both men and women and among teenagers.

‘The tobacco story’s a fantastic one and that’s one we need to learn from and use for other aspects of health improvement such as the obesity epidemic. With all of the action that’s taken with tobacco control over the last 50 years we’ve seen some fantastic outcomes. And in Queensland we’re now down to only 14 per cent of adults smoking on a regular basis.

14 per cent though still means half a million Queenslanders and those people are putting themselves at risk. We know that half of those people will die because of that smoking habit if they don’t stop. So really we’ve got to continue doing the work that we’re doing. But all the things we’ve seen every step along the way, every time we do something to improve our tobacco control we see a reduction in the number of people smoking. So we’ll be continuing all of those efforts’.

Immunisation is definitely a Queensland success story. The 92 per cent coverage is above that of the national average and Dr Young is confident the state will reach its goal of 95 per cent in the very near future.

‘Immunisation in Queensland has been a tremendous success story. Even recently we’ve seen our rates go from around 90 per cent up to 92 per cent, which is wonderful, and we’re well on track towards 95 per cent because we know 95 per cent is the level you need for the most contagious diseases such as measles.

Now we’re working so closely with all of the people involved in the immunisation world, so GPs who in Queensland who do a fantastic job and they get the vast majority of kids and get them vaccinated’.

Last updated: 7 January 2015