There are many causes of the obesity epidemic, so it will require many solutions at both the individual and Government level.
That’s the opinion of Deakin’s Professor Kylie Ball as she embarks on a five-year study which aims to better understand the impact of socio-economic conditions on the likelihood of people becoming obese.
“There is already evidence that people with low education and income are at risk,” said Professor Ball, who is a recent recipient of a prestigious National Health and Medical Research Council Principal Research Fellowship.
“It is exciting to be able to spend the next five years really developing an understanding of the links and also to look at ways to address the problems.”
One of the causes might be the proliferation of fast food outlets in low income areas.
“I think that might be the case but there is no hard evidence that this contributes to the increased rates of obesity in those areas yet,” Professor Ball said.
“Certainly there is an accumulation of fast food outlets in those areas, but fast food companies would probably argue that they are merely going where the demand is.”
Which leads to the obvious question: in a country like Australia do people have the democratic right to eat themselves to an early death?
“That’s a good question,” Professor Ball said.
“There are those people who already say we are living in too much of a nanny state.
“Against that however, obesity is a huge drain on our health system, and also on national productivity, with people taking time off work because they are ill.
“Also we have a quarter of children now presenting as overweight or obese.
“So there must be a time where the Government has to step in, that we have to have broader up-stream action.
“Having said that, it is not solely up to Government, or solely up to the individual, there are many causes of the obesity epidemic, so it will need many different types of solutions.”
Professor Ball’s research over the next five years will look at three main areas:
- Determining why people from low socio-economic areas are at risk.
- Developing strategies for healthy eating, including the use of novel approaches like apps.
- Building research capacity by attracting and supporting students.
“It is interesting that not everyone in low socio-economic circumstances becomes obese,” Professor Ball said.
“There are those who are resilient to the factors around them and who are able to eat well and lively healthy lives. We need to look at those people and see what we can learn from them.
“An interesting thing about mobile phones and apps is that they are as readily available in low socio-economic areas as in others areas of society,
“So we can make use of that technology to spread information about healthy lifestyle and food options.”
Professor Ball will incorporate into her PRF studies work already done under what is known as the SHELf (Supermarket Healthy Eating for Life) study.
“This looks at the impact of both price reductions for fruit and veg and low-joule beverages, as well as nutrition skill-building, to see if these lead to healthier eating among women,” she said.
Professor Ball is the second member of CPAN (Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition Research) to be awarded an NHMRC Principal Research Fellow.
The first was Professor Jo Salmon.
“This is a great achievement for Kylie,” said CPAN’s Director, Professor David Crawford.
“These PRFs are highly prestigious with only a handful awarded nationally.”