Roy Morgan Research released a poll overnight, where the television watching habits of the “obese” and “overweight” were analysed. The results are both obvious and significant: obese Australians love their daytime television. According to the Roy Morgan data, “obese” Australians are much more likely than people of “acceptable weight” to watch Huey’s Cooking Adventures, Judge Judy, The Young and the Restless and Days of our Lives.

Furthermore, obese Australians are 48% more likely than the average Australian to watch four or more hours per day of commercial television. According to another Morgan Poll, a majority of people aged 18 and over in each of the USA (63%), Australia (61%), New Zealand (60%) and the United Kingdom (52%) are classified as either overweight or obese.

The socioeconomic costs of obesity are not easy to determine, as there are both direct and indirect costs of obesity. Direct costs include preventive, diagnostic, and treatment costs, which are relatively easy to calculate. US studies have found that the costs for healthcare for obese and overweight people are on average 37% more than for people in the normal weight range.

Indirect costs include the loss of labour force participation that comes from a higher rate of illnesses among obese people, such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, certain cancers, stroke, and depression.

Speaking at conference in Sydney in early September, Dr Philip James, the British chairman of the International Obesity Task Force, said: “We are not dealing with a scientific or medical problem. We’re dealing with an enormous economic problem that, it is already accepted, is going to overwhelm every medical system in the world.”

Although Dr James claimed that the actual costs of obesity are immeasurable, he estimated that it would be billions of dollars for the worst affected countries, including Australia.

While it is a stretch to link daytime television watching habits and labour force participation, the high rate of commercial television watching among obese people is connected with a possible policy action: experts at the Sydney conference said governments should impose bans on junk-food advertising aimed directly at children, which are of course prevalent during the day.

However, as far as Henry can see, there are just as many ads on television for weight loss programs as there are junk food ads. It is a touchy, difficult topic that the experts rate as highly as the bird flu and global warming on level of importance. We need to come to terms with it as quickly as possible: our economy depends on it.

Read more at Henry Thornton.

Peter Fray

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