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The Heavy Obesity Costs on Australia’s Health System

by admin on September 3, 2015

More Australians are overweight and obese than a decade ago.

The impact on health care costs is substantial. In 2005, the cost of obesity for the Australian economy was estimated at $21 billion in direct health care and non-health care related costs. That estimate has since soared to $120 billion a year, an amount equal to 8 per cent of the economy’s annual output.

The Lateral Economics Index of Australia’s Wellbeing estimates a rise in the number of obese adults from 3.2 million to 5 million, an increase of 21% to 28% of the population. Health problems related to weight gain continue to pose significant economic burdens.

Perhaps the most notable impact is the effect on Australia’s health systems.

Higher Spending on Specialised Equipment

Hospitals are having to invest in specialised equipment to accommodate a growing number of overweight patients. These include wider beds, reinforced toilets, and broader chairs. The added expense is staggering as local health districts struggle with managing larger patients.

Campbelltown Hospital recently invested $134 million to upgrade its facilities. This includes two specialised bariatric rooms for each of the three new wards. The rooms are specifically designed for patients over 110 kilograms with larger and more expensive equipment.

Bariatric beds are able to handle patients weighing 450 kilograms but cost up to $10,000. In contrast, standard beds cost between $3,000 to $4,000. The rooms are also fitted with a hoist mounted on the ceiling to transport patients to the restroom.

Because of these changes, nurses and other health professionals regularly undergo training on the best ways to treat obese patients. Hospitals around the country are increasingly facing new challenges related to the weight crisis.

Health departments not only spent more on specialised equipment, but had to dedicate additional resources on overweight patients resulting in even higher treatment costs.

“Obese patients are more complex. They are more likely to spend more time in hospital, they require more staff resources, they are more expensive across the board. We know where the cost is going and it’s going to continue to increase,” said Jane Martin, executive manager of Obesity Policy Coalition.

If obesity rates continue to grow, economic costs will continue to grow to overwhelming proportions. The latest research only demonstrates the need for preventative health measures for the public. Committing to such health measures is a critical step to improving the health and welling of Australians.

A better understanding of gut bacteria is also important to combatting the mounting weight crisis.

How Gut Bacteria Affects Weight Gain

The gut microbiota is home to tens of trillions of microorganisms, outnumbering all of the body’s cell 10 to 1. The composition of the gut microbiota is heavily influenced by environmental factors. It is becoming increasingly clear these microbes have a much stronger impact on physical health than previously thought.

Studies in mice have shown that intestinal microbes have an effect on weight gain.

The experiment took samples of gut bacteria from human twins (one was lean and the other was obese) and transferred the microbes into lean mice. The diets were kept the same but mice that received bacteria from obese twins grew fat while those that received bacteria from lean twins remained at a healthy weight.

The obese mice had a less diverse community of microbes in their gut. The experiment provides compelling proof of a strong connection between gut bacteria and obesity.

Diet plays a major role in shaping the gut ecosystem. A link has been found between a diet of highly processed foods and less diverse gut bacteria. This means some individuals are more predisposed to obesity than others.

Optimising the gut flora starts by:

  • Avoiding processed and refined foods
  • Eating fermented and unpasteurized foods
  • Taking probiotic supplements

Mounting research points to a much stronger gut-brain connection than previously thought. The balance of gut bacteria plays a major role in the development of obesity. Studies make it crystal clear that healthy food choices is one of the foundations to better health. More research into this area is incredibly important.

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Rosemary Boon

Registered Psychologist

M.A. (Psych),
Grad. Dip. Ed. Studies (Sch. Counsel),
Grad Dip. Ed. B Sc, Dip. Nut.

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