Experts warn of "fat, middle-aged workforce"

Obesity is becoming an epidemic in Australia.

Photo by Jon Barron

Obesity is becoming an epidemic in Australia.

Photo by Jon Barron
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Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Obese baby boomers are costing Australia's workforce an estimated $3.8 billion a year in lost productivity, according to the country's leading demographer Professor Graeme Hugo.

The University of Adelaide's population expert says Australian workers aged 45 to 69 make up about 42% of the workforce and have the highest level of obesity of any age group, with 72% of men and 58% of women overweight.

"This is an urgent issue for Australia because the health implications are serious," he says. "Chronic disease, disability and dementia, which are all associated with obesity, will place huge pressure on our health system in coming years.

Professor Hugo says the problem is compounded by an ageing society, with Australia relying more heavily on baby boomers to stay in the workforce beyond the normal retirement age.

"Baby boomers are a critical workforce group, given current skill shortages and a shrinking labour market in Australia," he says.

"The unprecedented high levels of obesity among Australian baby boomers is an issue of national importance. Moreover, the window of opportunity to intervene and reduce obesity among this group before they enter retirement is rapidly closing."

A $641,000 project led by Professor Hugo will help address the problem, pooling expertise from public health researchers, psychologists, economists, sociologists, nutritionists and urban planners.

"The aim is to develop strategies which focus on improving diets and increasing physical activity levels among baby boomers. There are no silver bullet solutions to modify diet and exercise, but we need to consider individuals in their home, community and workplace," Professor Hugo says.

The World Health Organisation estimates the number of overweight people will increase by 1.5 billion by 2015, impacting the world's health, social and economic sectors.

Funding for the three-year project has been provided by the Australian Research Council, with the University partnering with The Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Workcover SA, Council on the Ageing and SA Health.


Contact Details

Professor Graeme Hugo
Director, Australian Population and Migration Research Centre
School of Social Sciences
The University of Adelaide
Business: +61 8 8313 5646
Mobile: 0416 205 181

Mr David Ellis
Deputy Director, Media and Corporate Relations
External Relations
The University of Adelaide
Business: +61 8 8313 5414
Mobile: +61 (0)421 612 762