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July 2009 Issue
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Who's at risk of chronic disease?


Chronic diseases among older, lower income and obese Australians have increased markedly in the past 15 years, according to University of Adelaide researchers.

Diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure have escalated among these groups since the 1990s, researchers from the University's School of Medicine have established after examining data from two Australian National Health Surveys.

Co-author Dr Evan Atlantis presented the findings at the 2009 Heart Foundation Conference in Brisbane.

Early career research fellow Dr Atlantis and his colleagues, biostatistician Ms Kylie Lange and Professor Gary Wittert, Head of the University's School of Medicine, co-authored a paper on their findings, recently published in the international journal Obesity Reviews.

Dr Atlantis said health surveys done in 1989-1990 and 2004-05 showed that people aged 60 and over, those in the lowest 40% for income distribution and obese Australians are at much greater risk of chronic disease.

He said the findings were concerning in light of Australia's ageing population, and required more research to understand why disease rates have increased in select groups.

"Roughly two-thirds of Australians are now at least overweight and/or don't engage in sufficient physical activity levels for health benefits. These Australians are likely to be hit hardest with rising rates of chronic diseases," Dr Atlantis said.

The University of Adelaide researcher has called for government policies that influence the quality and content of Australia's food supply and increase opportunities for more recreational physical activity.

"These two areas are key to improving our nation's health," he said.

Dr Atlantis said Australians and other developed nations live in toxic environments where cheap and convenient food choices dominate.

"More research is needed to ascertain whether more affordable fresh fruits and vegetables and improved urban environments and work culture would encourage more Australians to make healthy lifestyle choices."

Story by Candy Gibson

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