Healthy Weight

Overweight and obesity – a sizeable issue

The number of Australians who are overweight or obese has reached an all time high. The past two decades have seen the weight of Australians rise at an alarming rate, with 67% of men and 52% of women estimated to be overweight or obese in 2005.
This concerning trend also affects children and adolescents in Australia. About 23% of 2-16 year olds were above a healthy weight in 2007.

Why is being overweight a problem?

People who are overweight can have raised blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels, and are at an increased risk of heart disease
and stroke. The risk of type 2 diabetes, certain cancers and osteoarthritis is also increased with excess body weight.
By starting early, prevention of excess weight gain in children and adults can reduce the risk of many of these health problems later in life.


Weight – a balancing act

Maintaining a healthy body weight is a matter of balancing the energy we put into our bodies (calories from food) with the energy that we use up (or burn) during our daily activities or exercise. If we don’t use up all the energy we consume, the excess will be stored as body fat, and over time our body weight will increase.
Research suggests that Australians are not getting this balance right, and are getting fatter as a result of too little physical activity as well as too many calories from food.


How healthy is your weight?

A simple way to work out if your weight falls into the healthy weight range for your height is to calculate your Body Mass Index (BMI). First multiply your height (in metres) by your height (in metres). Write this number down, then divide your weight (in kilograms) by this number. The result is your BMI.
The following BMI classifications are intended for adults aged 18 and over: 
BMI kg/m2
Less than 18.5
1.5 to 24.9
Healthy weight range
25 to 29.9
Over 30
Where fat is carried on the body is also of importance in determining the health effects. Body fat around the waist poses a greater health risk than body fat around the hips and thighs. According to the National Health and Medical Research Council recommendations, men with a waist circumference above 94cm and women with a waist circumference above 80cm carry too much unhealthy fat around the waist and are at greater risk of developing disease.
BMI charts for children and ethnic specific values for waist circumference are available. Consult a health professional such as a General Practitioner or an Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD) for further information.

What can we do about being overweight?

While every month there is a new diet released full of promises, unfortunately there is no miracle cure for losing weight. Short-term weight loss may be achieved on a range of diets, but most people will regain their weight after they go off a diet. Research has shown that a sensible way to achieve sustainable weight loss is a balanced, calorie-controlled eating plan together with regular exercise. The aim should be to form new eating habits for the long term.
Before commencing any weight management regime, it is important to set realistic expectations. A weight loss of 1 to 4 kg per month in the short term is considered good progress, with a loss of 10–20% of initial weight in the long term. Even a weight loss of 5–10% can significantly improve your health.


Get your body moving

Regular exercise can help achieve a healthy weight. The National Physical Activity Guidelines for Australians recommend at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activities (such as walking) on most days of the week.
Talk to your doctor about what kind of physical activity plan is best for you.

Healthy eating for life

Balancing your food intake means enjoying a wide variety of nutritious foods to ensure all your nutritional needs are met. Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables, legumes and cereal foods, and include lean meat, fish, poultry, milk, yogurt
and cheese in your diet.
To lose weight, you need to increase the amount of exercise you do and reduce the amount of calories you eat. Here are some tips to help you cut down on calories:
  • Reduce portion sizes
  • Trim fat off meat and peel skin off chicken
  • Use low fat cooking methods (e.g. stir fry, grill, steam, microwave, boil, fry in a non-stick fry pan, bake)
  • Use oils and fat spreads sparingly
  • Choose reduced or low fat dairy products
  • Eat fewer sweet biscuits, cakes and fried take-away food
  • Avoid drinking large quantities of sugary drinks
  • Limit your alcohol intake if you choose to drink

Healthy weight with dairy

As one of the core food groups, dairy foods play a key rolein a healthy balanced diet. Dairy foods contain at least 10 essential nutrients, including vitamins A and B12, calcium, carbohydrate, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, protein, riboflavin and zinc.
While dairy foods are well known for their role in bone health, they are often not the first food that comes to mind when thinking about losing weight. In fact, dairy foods can often be cut out in the mistaken belief that they are fattening. However, scientific evidence shows that eating 3 serves of dairy every day will not only help your bones but may also help you manage your weight.
Research has shown that people who have low calcium and/or dairy intakes are more likely to have a greater amount of body fat, and a greater risk of gaining weight and more fat over time. In addition, if you are trying to lose weight and you normally have a low intake of dairy foods, it has been shown that including 3 serves of dairy in a calorie controlled eating plan may help you achieve a slightly greater weight loss.

3 serves of dairy every day

With the good news about dairy and weight management, there are now even more reasons for you to eat 3 serves of dairy foods every day. While all dairy foods can fit into a balanced diet, there is a wide range of reduced or low fat dairy foods which are ideal for calorie-controlled diets.
Eating 3 serves of dairy foods every day is easy. One serve is equal to one glass (250mL) of milk, one tub (200g) of yogurt or two slices (40g) of cheese. Try these ideas:
  • Start your day with a bowl of cereal and milk and top with fruit-flavoured yogurt
  • For lunch, add two slices of cheese to a salad roll, or top two slices of bread with tomato and grated cheese and melt under the grill
  • For a tasty low-fat snack, make a fruit smoothie – simply blend low-fat milk and yogurt with fruits such as bananas or strawberries
For further information on weight management, consult a health professional such as your General Practitioner or an Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD).
Nutrition Australia would like to acknowledge Dairy Australia as the original author of this resource.

Published: January 2018

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