Australia is awash with liquid sugar
We get more sugar each year from beverages than all the sweet treats you can think of combined.
Australia’s obesity crisis is hitting the nation's maternity wards, with a significant proportion of serious pregnancy complications and trauma caused by women’s excess weight, new research has found.
The study published in The Medical Journal of Australia has analysed data from more than 42,500 first-time mothers and found a major increase in the number of pregnant women who are overweight or obese.
Researchers believe that if overweight or obese women had moved down one BMI (body mass index) category, 7.1 per cent of all stillbirths, 3.8 per cent of fetal abnormalities, 6.8 per cent of post-partum haemorrhages and 8.5 per cent of caesarean deliveries of all deliveries could have been avoided.
The findings have prompted renewed calls for the federal government to take stronger action to address the nation’s obesity crisis, with the majority of the adult population now overweight.
“Quite simply, they are not doing enough,” said Australian Medical Association president Michael Gannon.
The study used 24 years of data from the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney, and found 7.3 per cent of women who gave birth in 2010 to 2014 were obese, a 50 per cent increase from 20 years earlier.
Another 16.4 per cent of women were considered overweight (with a BMI between 25 and 29.9), compared to 12.7 per cent during the years 1990 to 1994.
Researchers warned that obesity “contributes substantially” to the development of large babies, increasing the risk of obstructed labour, birth trauma and haemorrhage.
It can also lead to the baby becoming overweight as a child, and later having heart problems, they said.
Study co-author Associate Professor Kirsten Black said many women in Australia were not planning for their pregnancy.
She said doctors should be having conversations with those of a reproductive age about their plans, so they can consider not only their weight but other factors like medications and vitamins.
Jodie Dodd, a professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at the University of Adelaide, said it was important that obesity was addressed well before women got pregnant.
Professor Dodd said while research had showed that diet and physical activity when pregnant could reduce the chance of the women having larger babies, it did not impact rates of hypotension (low blood pressure), gestational diabetes or caesareans.
“Prevention is way better than a cure,” she said.
A group of leading health organisations last year suggested an eight-point plan for tackling obesity in Australia, with measures including reformulation targets for food manufacturers and a national taskforce.
But Obesity Policy Coalition executive manager Jane Martin said she was yet to receive any response from the Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt and believed the lack of action from government could be partly blamed for the influence of the “ultra-processed” food and drink industry.
“And I don’t think politicians are really feeling the heat from their constituency. It is easier not to do anything,” she said.
Last year, the Australian Beverages Council, which represents soft drink makers including Coca-Cola, said in its annual report that it had devoted “significant resources " to keep a sugar tax off the table by lobbying key politicians.
Dr Gannon, an obstetrician and gynaecologist, said a key reason obesity should be a priority for government was there was growing evidence it had intergenerational impacts.
“The offspring of obese mothers are more likely to have chronic health problems later in life.”
He said a response was required from all areas of government, and strategies would take years to have an impact, but a good place to start could be a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages, with the money to be reinvested in health measures.
A 20 per cent sugary drink tax is supported by another 34 health, academic and consumer groups, including the Heart Foundation and Cancer Council.
A spokesman for Mr Hunt said while the government was “taking action to tackle the challenge of obesity”, it would not support a sugar tax.
“We’re committed to tackling obesity, but increasing the family’s weekly shop at the supermarket isn’t the answer,” a spokesman said.
“Australia has labelling laws about ingredients and nutritional information, and additional measures to guide consumer choice including the health star rating system.”