Sleep – and the lack of it in Australia – plus the growing obesity problem

In the modern age, where people are constantly online, work hours are increasing and there are ever rising demands on your time, proper rest is seriously endangered. And being sleep deprived is a major cost to the economy, public safety and personal health.

Cancer girl

In Australia the cost of sleep disorders including healthcare, absenteeism, loss of productivity, plus car and workplace accidents is estimated to be $5.1 billion a year, according to the Co-operative Research Centre for Alertness, Safety and Productivity, and the Sleep Health Foundation.

And the cost of lost sleep is not just lost productivity and poor health outcomes. The latest figures from NSW roads show that more people are killed in road accidents because of fatigue than alcohol, and yet there are no laws that relate to driving when tired.

Fatigue was a factor in 16 per cent of all fatal crashes in NSW in 2014, according to the NSW Centre for Road Safety. In 2013, the percentage of road accidents where fatigue was a factor, at 8%, was nearly twice as high as the figure for alcohol at 4.7%.

Sleep deprivation is a particular problem for young people, due to increased school demands and the ever-present social media. To quote Amanda Huffington, a leading media crusader for better sleep; “Nearly 5000 apps come up when you search “sleep” in the Apple App Store, more than 15 million photos under #sleep on Instagram, another 14 million under #sleepy, and more than 24 million under #tired. A quick search for “sleep” on Google will bring up more than 800 million results. Computers are however not the only, or even the key reason, for poor slumber.

For a long time, experts were guessing Australia’s obesity rate. Now, a groundbreaking, international study has put an actual number on the nations’ girth, with serious implications for the growth of health problems, the way the food industry operates, and the complications of an increasing and ageing population. The study was published in the leading medical Journal, The Lancet, in March of this year, and was based on body mass index data collected from 200 countries from 1975 to 2014.

The results show that more than one in four Australians is now obese.

The number of obese people in the world increased from 105 million in 1975 to 641 million in 2014. Australia had most recently estimated the rate to be 27%, but this is the first real proof.

The study showed the proportion of obese men more than tripled from 3.2% to 10.8% globally, and the proportion of obese women more than doubled from 6.4% to 14.9% and the rate was predicted to keep increasing.

Cancer Council Western Australia education and research director Terry Slevin said obesity increased cancer risk and this study forecast a cancer epidemic. “This is an extraordinary and frightening report which must prompt action,” Slevin said. “With the success in driving smoking rates down, obesity is the most important cancer risk factor for non smokers. On average the population is getting older, and fatter and that inevitably will increase the cancer burden.” Professor Margaret Allman-Farinelli is a Professor of Dietetics in the Charles Perkins Centre at the University of Sydney said it also had implications for Australia’s young generations.

“In Australia we anticipate an aging population to be supported by a younger population, who have become overweight and obese sooner than their parents and are more likely to experience the unwanted associated chronic diseases of obesity sooner,” Allman-Farinelli said. “As an example from 1995 until 2012 the percentage of obese 18 to 24 year old women more than tripled from 6% to 20%.”

The study also showed that while the most obese regions were Polynesia and Micronesia, almost a fifth of the world’s obese adults lived in six of the high-income English-speaking countries — Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, the U.K., and the U.S.A.

Obesity causes the neck to narrow, and the sound of snoring indicates the oxygen deprivation that is happening – resulting in massive health problems for those concerned. The key is to lose weight but in the meantime a simple oral appliance or chin support strap will open the airway and the snoring will be gone. The result will be better sleep and improved future health.

If you snore, the cost of doing this will be just a few dollars, but the cost of not doing it is simply too frightening to think about.

John Redfern