Only smoking surpasses excess weight as a modifiable risk factor for ill health in Australia
Overweight and obesity contributed to 44.6% of the burden from endocrine disorders
Lower socioeconomic groups experience the greatest burden of disease linked to excess weight
High body mass index (BMI) was linked to 4.72 million deaths around the world in 20171 and an analysis found deaths related to high BMI accounted for 7% of deaths from any cause in 2015.2 Nearly 70% of deaths linked to high BMI in 2015 were due to cardiovascular disease, and other major causes of high BMI-related deaths were diabetes, chronic kidney disease and cancer.
In Australia, overweight and obesity were responsible for 8.4% of the total burden of disease in 2015. This represents the impact of people dying early and living with illness due to conditions caused by excess weight, which was surpassed only by smoking (9.3%) as a modifiable risk factor for ill health. Poor diet (7.3%) further contributed to Australia’s burden of disease.3
Top five risk factors contributing to burden of disease in Australia, 2015
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. 2019. Australian Burden of Disease Study: impact and causes of illness and death in Australia 2015. Canberra, Australia.
The total burden of disease attributable to overweight and obesity in Australia includes fatal burden, mainly as a result of cancers, coronary heart disease, stroke and chronic kidney disease. For other conditions such as back pain and osteoarthritis, the burden was non-fatal. To calculate non-fatal burden, researchers use the concept of ‘disability-adjusted life years’, which assigns a numeric value to the years of healthy life lost due to illness. For example, four years lived with a chronic illness might become 2.7 disability-adjusted life years.4
Overweight and obesity contributed to almost half (44.6%) of the burden from endocrine disorders in Australia in 2015; and more than a third (35.6%) of the burden from kidney and urinary diseases.3
Overweight and obesity also contributed to:
- 19.3% of the burden from cardiovascular diseases
- 10.9% of the burden from musculoskeletal conditions
- 9% of the burden from neurological conditions
- 8% of the burden from respiratory diseases; and
- 7.8% of the burden from cancer.
The burden of disease linked to overweight and obesity had a different effect across the population depending on age, gender and socioeconomic status. Overweight and obesity was the top risk factor contributing to the burden of disease for women aged 45 to 64 years in Australia in 2015. It was the second risk factor behind smoking for women aged 65 to 84 years and for men aged 45 to 74 years.3 This reflects the increased occurrence of chronic conditions in later life.
An analysis which split the Australian population into five socioeconomic groups found the lowest socioeconomic group experienced the greatest burden of disease attributable to overweight and obesity. The burden progressively declined in each quintile so that the highest socioeconomic group experienced the least burden. After adjusting for the age structure of different socioeconomic groups, the burden in the lowest socioeconomic group was 2 times that of the highest socioeconomic group.3