Psychology the clue in halting obesity epidemic

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Obesity has been described as a major epidemic and, according to an Access Economics report released today, costs Australia over $21 billion per year.Childhood obesity is especially of major concern, as rates of overweight and obese children continue to rise.

“Given its association with serious illnesses including heart disease, stroke and diabetes, obesity is a major health concern and poses a significant cost burden for the community,” said APS President, Amanda Gordon.

“Traditionally obesity has been addressed using medical treatments such as surgery or medication. However, there is now strong evidence to show the effectiveness of psychological treatments in tackling this problem,” said Gordon. ‘What, when and how much you eat and drink, is behavioural and that’s pure psychology. If we want people to move to healthier lifestyles, to prevent illness, especially the growing number of chronic illnesses, we must address the psychological risk factors, rather than merely banning the sale of fast foods in schools or applying a ‘fat tax’ to foods.”

“A number of studies have shown that psychological treatment is effective in managing binge eating and over eating and has been shown in some cases to be more effective than medical treatments. Recent research has found that different diets achieved similar results over a year: it is not a question of which diet a person follows, but whether they stick to it. This is really a question of helping people to get and stay motivated.”

According to Gordon, psychological treatment helps to increase motivation to adhere to diet and exercise programs and to address issues related to self-esteem. “The rewards of even a small weight loss can be enormous for the individual both physically, in terms of reducing the risk of serious disease, and emotionally. In addition, psychological interventions that reduce chronic illness help to lessen the burden of cost to the community.”

“Because obesity is a difficult condition to treat, we believe that a combination of treatments, including psychological intervention, may be the best option,” says Gordon.It is now up to the government to include treatment for health related issues such as obesity under Medicare and increase the availability of this type of help to all Australians, while at the same time greatly reducing the cost to the community.

The APS runs a free referral service for the public.

Call 1800 333 497 or visit the Find a Psychologist website to find a psychologist in any area in Australia.


For more information contact:

Elaine Grant
Communications Manager
Australian Psychological Society
03 8662 3363
0412 683 068