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Regional Victoria is now the Big Smoke: smoking and obesity rates at dire levels throughout the state's rural communities

30 October 2013

Recent reports have identified the obesity endemic and high smoking rates that are plaguing many of Victoria’s rural communities.

Statistics show that if you live in the country you may be twice as likely to smoke, and up to two-and-half times more likely to be obese.

“We need greater community and government action to combat these damning findings that show smoking and obesity rates increase with geographic remoteness” AMA Victoria President Dr Stephen Parnis said.

The National Health Performance Authority’s report on tobacco smoking rates found that Ballarat, Horsham and Ararat have the highest smoking rates in Australia, with more than a quarter of adults daily smokers – opposed to the state average of 16 per cent.[1]

“Despite plain packaging, warning labels, public education and other government smoking cessation campaigns, the Quit message is being ignored in rural areas” Dr Parnis said.

Similarly, obesity rates in rural areas are far worse than metropolitan zones: the Loddon-Mallee-Murray region, which includes Bendigo, Echuca and Swan Hill, has the nation’s highest obesity rate at 41 per cent. In contrast, 16 per cent of residents of Melbourne’s inner eastern and inner north-western suburbs are obese.[2]

“Obesity, like smoking, has serious health implications and the healthcare costs for obese Victorians are 30 per cent higher than those with healthy body weights. Obesity increases your risk of developing diabetes, heart disease and stroke. It has a major impact on quality and length of life” Dr Parnis said.

“AMA Victoria continues to call for the introduction of mandatory food labels, which clearly detail salt, fat and sugar levels and the overall nutritional value of a product. Front-of-packet labels will assist Victorians regain a healthier lifestyle and be more aware of a food’s ingredients” Dr Parnis said.

“Children are inundated with junk food advertising, and as a result they want sugar-laced cereal and soft drinks. Both adults and children need to make healthy lifestyle choices that consist of regular exercise and balanced diets with plenty of fruit and vegetables. Simple changes such as water or milk at the dinner table instead of soft drink or cordial can make a significant difference to weight levels” Dr Parnis said.

“We know that regional Victorians can have a tremendous quality of life, so we need to ensure that healthy eating and an active lifestyle are a high priority of the entire community. Good health measures should not be confined to Melbourne” Dr Parnis said.

[1] National Health Performance Authority, Tobacco smoking rates across Australia, 2011-12
[2] National Health Performance Authority, Overweight and obesity rates across Australia, 2011-12

Media contact:
Felicity Ryan
Media & Public Affairs
Australian Medical Association Victoria
Telephone: (03) 9280 8753
Mobile: 0437 450 506

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