Obesity “epidemic”, supermarkets and veg*an choices

Source: Flickr/ carnagenyc

Source: Flickr/ carnagenyc

Today, The Age published an article on the health costs of obesity, titled “Obesity epidemic weighs down hospitals”. It’s nothing new; we’ve been reading or hearing about this public health problem for some time.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics 63% of adults are overweight or obese, as are 25% of children. People living in outer regional or remote areas are 15% more likely to be overweight or obese than people living in major cities. A high BMI is the second highest contributor to the burden of disease, after dietary risks. Smoking is the third highest.

This article in The Age is different in that it describes how the obesity “epidemic” affects hospital facilities and staff of a particular hospital. It’s the hospital in Bendigo, a city approx. 150 km northwest of Melbourne:

  • Bendigo Health found that in the past year the number of patients who are heavier than 200 kg has climbed steadily and is expected to continue to increase. A new hospital, to be opened next year, reflects this.
  • “Four square metres larger than standard, each $266,000 bariatric room in the new hospital will be equipped with a bigger, reinforced bed, a larger toilet, shower, wheelchair and trolley, and will be fitted with an electronically operated ceiling track hoist capable of moving patients weighing up to 300 kilograms. Equipment costs alone are $30,000 – more than three times that of a standard room.”
  • “In the current facility, three beds in a four bed bay often have to be shut to accommodate one heavy patient. Their length of stay is on average four days longer. A shortage of larger, specialised equipment is also an issue.”
  • “Sometimes we have patients who take up to four staff just to try and roll them or get them out of bed.”

The hospital has appointed a full-time employee to oversee “safe manual handling” of obese patients due to an increase in staff injuries.

Ambulances and community care are also affected.

“Specialised ambulances are needed to transport patients home. Once there they require a bariatric bed and mattress, and regular visits from nursing staff and other therapists.”

“Community care for the average obese patient costs more than $43,000 a year, compared to around $7,500 for a non-obese patient.”

There is no quick fix, but as a society we have to make healthy food choices the easy and affordable food choices. This will involve a range of strategies, and one of these is making vegetarian and vegan (veg*an) options more mainstream.

Source: Flickr/ wsilver

Source: Flickr/ wsilver

While it’s possible to be vegan and obese, overall veg*ans are more likely to be of healthy weight. A veg*an diet is also healthier for the planet. Further, given the horrific conditions animals are forced to endure in factory farming, a veg*an diet is the ethical choice. So there are three good reasons to stay away from meat and other animal products.

In my part of the world, veg*an restaurants and shops seem to mushroom. I love it. But I live in inner suburban Melbourne, and it’s a different picture the further one moves away from the big cities.

But veg*an is becoming mainstream in Germany (I’m planning another blog post on this topic). So much so, that an article in the economics section of a major German newspaper claims that vegan is the trend of the current decade. In Germany, the vegan supermarket chain Veganz has recently launched its own home brand. Veganz products are also sold in “regular” supermarket chains.

So, have Australian supermarkets caught on? Earlier this month I contacted four major supermarket chains in Australia – Coles, Woolworths, Aldi and Metcash – asking them two questions:

Over the last 12 months, have you launched any new products with the label “vegetarian” or “vegan”? If so, could you please list these products.

Over the next 12 months, do you expect demand for vegetarian and vegan products to rise, stay the same, or decrease? If you expect demand for such products to increase, what type of products do you expect to be in greater demand? For example, meat replacement products, vegan cheeses, vegan baked goods, vegan beauty and cleaning products, vegan wine.

Coles, Woolworths and Aldi responded. Woolworths wrote they are “unable to advise whether we expect a demand, increase or decrease in vegetarian and vegan products as new, improved and more popular products are launched; our product range must change in-line with demand.” Coles’ response was similar: “… at this stage it is hard to say whether the range will increase, decrease or stay the same. The product range we sell is heavily based on what our customers purchase. We aim to offer customers a wide variety of quality products at competitive prices, and as mentioned above, our range is constantly changing.” Aldi’s response was not much different. It too could not tell me whether the company plans to increase its veg*an range.

It will be up to consumer demand.

Today we have broccoli ... Source: Flickr/ premier-photo.com

Source: Flickr/ premier-photo.com

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