Obese Australians to get cash to slim
THE Australian government is considering subsidising weight-loss programmes to help tackle the country's growing obesity problem.
Despite its image abroad as the home of a fit and healthy population which enjoys an outdoor lifestyle, participates in extreme sports and lives off a diet of barbecued seafood, Australia in fact has the second-highest obesity rates in the world. The problem costs the government about A$1.5 billion a year (940 million) to treat the diseases it causes, such as diabetes, strokes, heart disease and some cancers, and the country's health-care and hospital system is collapsing under the weight of it all.
Of a population of around 20 million, more than 7 million Australians are overweight or obese.
Childhood obesity is also growing at 1 per cent each year.
The government is heeding the warning that, if the present trends continue, 75 per cent of the Australian population will be overweight within the next two decades.
Under the radical fat-fighting scheme, overweight people would be able to claim the cost of their weight-loss programme through their GPs.
The Federal Government plan would give family doctors the ability to prescribe approved weight-loss programmes to patients, who would then be able to claim 85 per cent of the cost through Medicare.
The 12-week government-sponsored programmes would be aimed at achieving major behavioural change and teaching people the skills to lose weight, exercise and keep the weight off long term.
Direct government assistance would be capped at A$200 a year. The average cost of a 12-week weight-loss programme is $195. The plan is being backed by leading health professionals and the Australian Medical Association.
Leading the push is Professor Mark Wahlqvist, of Monash University in Melbourne, president of the International Union of Nutritional Sciences and chairman of the World Health Organisation's working party on dietary guidelines.
"We are having to deal with a major emerging health problem that is obesity and a partnership with the private weight-loss sector is going to be increasingly important in tackling it," he said.
"I wouldn't have said this a decade ago when we set up the weight-management industry code of practice because there was a significant body of evidence which was fairly damning about the weight-management industry," he said. "But the code of practice has allowed us to tidy up the industry and all signatories now subject themselves to critical appraisal and have to provide their data for scrutiny."
The plan is under consideration by federal health minister Tony Abbott, who is believed to support the idea along with several key ministers.
The government estimated the plan would cost about A$50 million a year, but the total cost to the health system would be only A$27 million a year due to savings from the population's improved health.
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