The importance of physical activity in obesity epidemic

Australians are currently witnessing the emergence of a public health crisis in the form of escalating rates of overweight and obesity, and Exercise & Sports Science Australia (ESSA) is calling for more preventative measures to be put in place to protect the physical and mental health of all Australians.

“Overweight and obesity not only compromises quality of life, they are strongly linked to preventable chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, lung disease, certain cancers, depression, and arthritis, among others,” explained ESSA Chief Executive Officer, Anita Hobson-Powell.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reported last year that Australians are not doing the recommended amount of exercise for their age each week. Overweight and obesity, when considered together with insufficient physical activity, is estimated to account for 9% of the total disease burden in Australia.

“It is apparent that part of the solution to the current obesity crisis in Australia will be to create prevention opportunities for future generations of Australians to be more active. The rising rate of overweight and obesity particularly amongst children in Australia has recently led to more a proactive approach from government,” added Hobson-Powell.

In 2018, the Commonwealth Government conducted a Senate Inquiry into the obesity epidemic. Following the inquiry, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) agreed with the recommendation to develop a National Obesity Strategy.

“In February 2019, ESSA attended and contributed to the Commonwealth Government National Obesity Summit in Canberra,” said ESSA Advocacy & Relations Advisor, Leanne Evans.

“The summit discussions highlighted that preventing obesity required a multi-factorial solution including better access to medical and allied health services, better data collection and an educational approach for consumers.” 

It was acknowledged the important role physical activity will play in curbing overweight and obesity in Australia. More specifically, the importance of behavioral change to increase physical activity was emphasised.

“For people who are overweight or obese, an individualised approach to increasing physical activity is best achieved through exercise supervised by an accredited exercise professional.”

“University-trained exercise professionals, such as Accredited Exercise Physiologists (AEPs) or Accredited Exercise Scientists (AES), are best suited to assist those with obesity, by prescribing and delivering exercise consistent with evidence-based best practice.”  

Accredited Exercise Physiologists are allied health professionals with the highest level of training for prescribing exercise. They possess the skills and knowledge to design, deliver and evaluate safe and effective exercise interventions for people who have acute, sub-acute or chronic medical conditions, injuries and disabilities.

Accredited Exercise Scientists (AES) specialise in exercise prescription for health, fitness, performance, well-being and the prevention of chronic conditions. 

ESSA acknowledges that an increase in community-wide physical activity will be reliant on engagement in a variety of activities spanning active recreation, sport, structured exercise and incidental activity. 

“Strategies to increase active transport, access to open spaces and improving walkability will be required to help reverse the current impact of inactivity.” 

“ESSA’s exercise professionals possess the expertise to provide education and advice concerning the uptake of physical activity in these varied modes and settings and can offer this  to individuals or at community or population level.”

“They also possess the knowledge and skill to apply behavioural change protocols and active living strategies and therefore will play a vital future role in the implementation of a national obesity strategy,” added Evans.

ESSA is committed to  supporting preventative measures to protect the physical health of all Australians. ESSA launched the Active Nation campaign in 2018 to get physical activity and exercise higher up on the government’s agenda and promote the benefits of the general public working with accredited exercise professionals for prevention and health promotion.  

To find out more about the Active Nation campaign, and to sign the petition, visit the Active Nation website.

To contact your local accredited exercise professional, visit the ESSA website’s search function.