Can You Be Fat But Fit? An Expert Weighs In

Aussies are tipping the scales more than ever, according to new findings from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Stats from the National Health Survey: First Results, 2017-18 report, released on December 12,  revealed that two-thirds of Australian adults -- that's 12.5 million of us -- are overweight or obese.

In fact, our waistlines have continued to expand since the previous report was released two years ago.

To compile the data, the ABS used the Body Mass Index (BMI) -- which is calculated by dividing weight in kilograms by height in metres squared -- a commonly used measure for defining whether a person is underweight, normal weight, overweight or obese.

Digging into the stats, it was young people aged 18 to 24 years who showed the largest increase, with 39 percent considered overweight or obese in 2014-15 compared with 46 percent in 2017-18.

There was a distinct split between the sexes, with a greater proportion of overweight or obese men than women -- that's 74.5 percent and 59.7 respectively.

READ MORE: Australia’s Rate Of Severe Obesity Has Doubled

Behind the bulge

The report hinted at several potential causes behind our penchant for packing on the pounds.

Fruit and veggies

According to the study, it looks like us Aussies aren't overly fond of getting our daily 'two-and-five.'

Only one in twenty adults met both the fruit and the vegetable recommendations -- that's five or more serves of veg and  two or more serves of fruit per day.

If given the choice, Aussie would reach for a piece of fruit over veg, with over 50 percent of adults chowing down on two or more serves a day.

Vegetables get the raw end of the stick, so to speak, with just one in thirteen Aussies meeting the veg guidelines.

Unlike our waistlines, these trends for fruit and veg consumption have remained fairly consistent over time.

Getting sweaty

We might weigh more than ever, but Aussie aged 15 years and over reported exercising for 42 minutes per day on average. That equates to about 294 minutes per week.

Walking to get the bus or train, or simply taking a walk, were the most popular forms of working up a sweat.

Sounds positive, right? Well, not according to the Department of Health's Physical Activity Guidelines.

The guidelines state that adults aged 18 to 64 years must do 150 to 300 minutes of moderate, or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous, intense physical activity -- or a combo of both -- each week.

In reality, only 15 percent of 18 to  64-year-olds actually manage to meet those targets.

Take a seat

Just over 43 percent of adults spend most of their workday sitting down, which isn't great for our health.

According to the Physical Activity Guidelines, sedentary behaviour like sitting behind a desk for the whole day is associated with health issues like an increased risk of type 2 diabetes.

More obviously, the more we're sitting on our butts the less we're up and moving, and adding to our weekly exercise target.

Or is that actually true? Recent research into standing desks begs to differ ...

Can you be 'FAT' but FIT?

So, more than 60 percent of us are classified as overweight or obese, and it might come down to our distaste for veggies and the amount of time we spend on our bums.

But does the number on the scale -- or our BMI -- actually determine whether we're fit and healthy or not?

LeBron James, NBA superstar, is technically bordering on obese.

The 33-year-old LA Lakers player currently listed as 2.07 metres tall and weighs just over 113kgs.

His BMI is 26, pushing him past the overweight range (which starts at 25) and into the pre-obese category (25.00 - 29.99)

James -- the greatest basketball player of all time, and borderline obese. Image: Getty.

We asked nutritionist and dietitian Leanne Ward to weigh in, so to speak, on whether you can be both 'f' words at the same time -- fit and, to use a controversial term, fat.

"Yes I believe you can," Ward, who specialises in gut health, weight loss and emotional eating, told 10 daily.

We use height and weight to work out your BMI and this will generally determine if you are overweight or a healthy weight but this isn’t a one-size-fits-all model.

Ward explained that athletes for example often come in the ‘overweight or even obese category’ depending on the amount of muscle mass they hold.

Like LeBron, Ward said an NRL player might typically be called ‘overweight’ in terms of BMI, but is in reality quite healthy and very fit.

READ MORE: Endometriosis More Common In Women With Healthy BMI

'Healthy,' but not

The BMI and the number on the scales aren't the final word on health and fitness.

"We also need to think about things such as holistic health," Ward said.

"Health also encompasses things such as smoking status, the amount of alcohol you drink, how much stress you’re under, how much sleep you get and even some biochemical markers such as blood pressure and cholesterol."

Ward gave the example of a person within the ‘healthy’ BMI, but drank every night, smoked multiple cigarettes a day, had high cholesterol, never did any exercise and ate far too much processed foods.

"I wouldn’t classify them as healthy even though they technically had a ‘healthy’ BMI," she told 10 daily.

At the end of the day, the BMI measure is a good guide, but it has its limitations, such as age, ethnicity and other health factors.

It’s more protective to be a little heavier when you are older, Ward said by way of example.

"It’s widely accepted in the medical community that older people in the 'overweight' BMI category are actually healthy for their age and this is protective in terms of morbidity and mortality."

Ward's final word on Aussies' waistlines
  • "Most Australia’s are unhealthy but this isn’t solely based on their BMI. It’s based on poor Western style diets with too much processed food, added sugars and alcohol and too little whole foods and vegetables/ fibre. Plus too little activity, too much stress and not enough sleep."
  • "BMI is just another tool to use but it’s not the be all to end all in terms of health status. Health is holistic."
  • "Some Australians will qualify as 'overweight' based on BMI but are perfectly healthy, if not healthier than some people in the 'healthy' category."

Feature image: Getty.