In Canberra, just over 50 per cent of us are overweight and 20 per cent of us are obese. The prevalence of obesity is now so high that the ACT Government has set up an obesity management service for very obese people.

We all know the potential consequences of being obese, including diabetes, arthritis, high blood pressure, and heart disease, as well as breathing and digestive disorders. All of these problems put a strain on the ACT’s health system. But nothing more vividly illustrates the problem of obesity than Type 2 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes is a preventable but serious disease, highly correlated with obesity. Symptoms of diabetes are subtle but over time can lead to much more serious consequences including kidney failure, blindness, heart attacks, and limb amputations.

Over 40 per cent of Type 2 diabetes cases would disappear if obesity were also eliminated from the population. Costs of managing the disease in Australia have been estimated at $14 billion per year.

Canberra has an incidence of Type 2 diabetes slightly above the national average. With at least 13,000 people suffering the disease, Type 2 diabetes costs $190 million per year in the ACT alone.

The personal impacts and productivity impacts on the workforce are also significant, with estimates that over 10,000 people across Australia have had to quit work due to ill health caused by Type 2 diabetes. Of this group, nearly 7 out 10 live in poverty.

While establishing nutritional cause and effect is difficult, there are two big reasons which can be shown to have a big effect: portion size and sugar.

CHOICE study showed that people ate 20-50% more if large portions were placed in front of them, whether in larger plates at restaurants or in larger portions like a bag of chips. Additionally, the study found many examples of food outlets encouraging consumers to “supersize”, spending a little more to get a lot more food, even if this exceeded their necessary dietary intake.

Similarly, while grains are an important part of healthy eating, the new Australian dietary guidelines halves the recommended serving size for grains as part of controlling portion intake.

The Australian Government doesn’t specify what a “serving size” should be, and so consumers are often confused about how much they should be eating. Foods made from grains are often very energy dense, particularly pasta, and it can be easy for people to overeat without realising it.

Sugar is also a major concern for weight control. Australia consumes the fifth-largest amount of sugar per person in the world. With increasing recognition that sugar affects our bodies in very similar ways to other drugs, the medical profession is calling for sugar to be regulated in a similar way to alcohol and tobacco.

For example, a 10 per cent tax on soft drinks in Mexico cut sales by 6 per cent nationally, and by up to 17 per cent in the lower income groups who are also more likely to be obese. This shows that either people will consume less sugar and our obesity levels will drop, or we will at least have the money to treat the results of these poor choices later.