Dr Peter Brukner OAM

AIHW REPORT 2023: We are getting fatter and sicker

4 mins read

It’s widely known that obesity is on the rise; it’s predicted that more than 4 billion people will be obese or overweight within the next 12 years. So perhaps it’s not surprising that the 2023 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) – an overview of the health of Australians – shows that, as a nation, we are getting fatter and sicker.

The health of Aussie men

Overweight and obesity refer to excess body weight, a contributing risk factor for many chronic conditions and associated with higher death rates. Overweight (including obesity) was the second leading preventable cause of ill health and premature death for males and was responsible for 9% of ill health and premature deaths in Australia in 2018. Overweight and obesity are linked to 27 male diseases, including 14 types of cancer, 3 cardiovascular diseases, stroke, type 2 diabetes, dementia, asthma and chronic kidney disease.

The 2023 AIHW report states that in 2017-18 (the latest figures available due to Covid restrictions), a frightening 75% of Australian males were overweight or obese, and 3 in 10 were obese (table 1). Compared to other nations, Australia has the fourth highest proportion of men living with obesity (32%), behind New Zealand (33%), Hungary (36%) and the United States (44%). 

The report shows the proportion of adults with overweight or obesity generally increases with age, and both tend to be more common in older age groups. 18% of men and 14% of women aged 18–24 live with obesity, compared with 42% of men and 39% of women aged 65–74.

Australian women and obesity

The figures for females are only marginally better. 60% of Australian females are overweight or obese. The proportion of obesity in Australian women was 9th highest out of 21 OECD countries (29%) – higher than the average of 26% for women.

Again, overweight and obesity are more common in older age groups. Around 3 in 4 females aged 65–74 live with overweight or obesity, compared with 2 in 5 females aged 18–24.

The Australian overweight/obesity rate in 2017/18 was 67%. This figure has steadily increased over the decades (table 2), and the 2023 rates will likely be even higher.

2023 Australian Insititute of Health and Welfare overweight and obesity rates in Australia 1995-2018

Young people living with obesity

In children and adolescents aged 2–17, 1.2 million children – 1 in 4 – live with overweight or obesity, and the situation worsens for children living in inner regional and outer regional areas in Australia.

Chronic disease in Australia

Chronic diseases are long-lasting conditions with persistent effects and include arthritis, cancer, heart disease, diabetes and chronic kidney disease, among others. 

The 2023 AIHW shows that chronic disease in Australia is increasing at an alarming rate.  Almost half of adult Australian males have one or more of the 10 most common chronic conditions. About 1 in 3 males aged 15 and over have one chronic condition, 13% have two and 7% have three or more. The number living with chronic disease increases with age. 37% of males aged 15–44 have one or more chronic conditions, followed by 53% of males aged 45–64, and 75% of Aussie men aged 65 or older will experience at least one chronic condition.

While Australian males have higher rates of obesity than females, Aussie females fare worse when it comes to chronic disease; 56% of women are estimated to have one or more of the 10 common chronic conditions. About 1 in 3 females aged 15 and over have one condition (31%), 14% have two, and 11% have three or more. The 2023 AIHW report shows an increased likelihood of developing at least one chronic condition as Aussie women age:  46% of females aged 18–44 have at least one chronic condition, 59% aged 45–64 and 77% aged 65+ (Table 3).

2023 AIHW chronic disease rates

Overall, it is clear that we are getting fatter and sicker as a nation. Isn’t it time we did something about it?

Summary of the AIHW report: 

Here is a summary of the AIHW report (Table 4)

2023 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report summary

FEMALES
46% of females aged 18–44 have at least one chronic condition.
59% of females aged 45–64 have at least one chronic condition.
77% of females aged 65 and over have at least one chronic condition.
3 in 5 (60%) Australian females are living with overweight or obesity.
3 in 10 (30%) live with overweight (but not obesity).
3 in 10 (30%) are living with obesity.
Overweight and obesity are more common in older age groups. Around 3 in 4 females (73%) aged 65–74 are living with overweight or obesity, compared with 2 in 5 females (40%) aged 18–24
Around 4 in 5 females aged 75 and over (84%) have a high-risk waist circumference.
Around 2 in 5 females aged 18–24 (37%) have a high-risk waist circumference.
4.5% of females drink sugar-sweetened drinks daily, and 11% drink them less than daily (usually consume 1-6 days per week)
6.1% of females drink diet drinks daily, and 16% drink them less than daily (usually consume 1-6 days per week).

MALES
Almost 3 in 10 (37%) males aged 15–44 have at least one chronic condition.
53% of males aged 45–64 have at least one chronic condition.
74% of males aged 65 and over have at least one chronic condition.
705,400 males have diabetes
3 in 4 (75%) Australian males are living with overweight or obesity
2 in 5 (42%) are living with overweight (but not obesity)
3 in 10 (33%) are living with obesity.
57% of males aged 65–74 had a waist circumference greater than 102cm, placing them at substantially increased metabolic risk. 14% of men aged 18–24 and 43% of men aged 45–54 had substantially increased risk.
8.5% of males drink sugar-sweetened drinks daily, and 18% drink them less than daily (usually consume 1-6 days per week)
8.0% of males drink diet drinks daily, and 17% drink less than daily (usually consume 1-6 days per week.

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