Business and community leaders offer ideas to help tackle the region's growing obesity problem

NUMBERS: PwC health economics and health policy expert Marty Jovic outlined the true cost of obesity to the Australian economy at the first Central Highlands Regional Partnership Prevention Lab leadership forum. Picture: Kate Healy
NUMBERS: PwC health economics and health policy expert Marty Jovic outlined the true cost of obesity to the Australian economy at the first Central Highlands Regional Partnership Prevention Lab leadership forum. Picture: Kate Healy

Daily hot lap walks around the block, regular “squat o’clock” sessions, a six-week health and wellbeing program and leaders setting a good example from the top down have helped Petstock make a positive impact on the health, and in turn the productivity, of their employees.

The Ballarat company shared their focus on health and wellbeing with business and community leaders who gathered yesterday for the first Central Highlands Regional Partnership Prevention Lab leadership forum to help reduce obesity levels in the region.

Rather than health experts leading the fight on obesity, the lab asked business and community leaders to offer novel ideas about small changes that could be made to help reduce waistlines.

Petstock marketing general manager Dion Collard told the forum that some of the company’s activities, like the daily walk that occurs at different times when Eye of the Tiger is played throughout the office, had drawn the attention of other businesses who had seen the group out walking.

“For the first time since the turn of the 20th century there’s potential for children to be having an earlier death than their parents, which is a pretty stark fact.”

Ballarat Community Health chief executive Robyn Reeves.

In turn Petstock had shared with those businesses how they help their staff stay fit and healthy.

“It’s become a real cultural thing now and for us it’s about leadership from the top down and making sure everyone in the business is invested in it,” he said.

It’s those sort of ideas that the Prevention Lab sought to harness from those assembled, who heard from PwC health economics and health policy expert Marty Jovic about the true cost of obesity to the nation.

Mr Jovic said PwC analysis had shown obesity cost Australia about $8.6 billion a year in direct costs to the health budget, and indirect costs through lost productivity and other factors.

In the next decade that will blow out to about $87.7 billion.

The Central Highlands has one of the highest rates of obese and overweight people in Victoria, with 67 per cent of adults overweight or obese, and about 27 per cent of children.

“For the first time since the turn of the 20th century there’s potential for children to be having an earlier death than their parents, which is a pretty stark fact,” said Ballarat Community Health chief executive Robyn Reeves.

WEIGHTY PROBLEM: Almost two thirds of adults in the Central Highlands region are overweight or obese.

WEIGHTY PROBLEM: Almost two thirds of adults in the Central Highlands region are overweight or obese.

Partnership lab chair George Fong said attendees at the forum had been shocked at the financial impact of obesity.

“The audience, after some discussion, realised the extent of the problem financially,” he said.

Each participant was asked to leave one suggestion of a small change that they could make to contribute to a different, healthier future for the region.

“In spite of all the technical analysis and expertise from PwC and Health Futures Australia, the bottom line is these ideas are attainable by organisations and they’re not things that require consultancy, expertise and expense. It’s about rethinking the way you work and the way your work environment operates,” Mr Fong said.

Mr Fong said the ideas submitted would be collated and an action plan drawn up for the region – the first step toward reducing obesity.

“We will plan out tangible initiatives that can be applied in organisations and outside and create a framework that people can use to apply in their business or organisation,” he said.