Has industrialisation helped to cause the obesity epidemic?

4 August 2011

How is our increasingly urban lifestyle affecting our health?
How is our increasingly urban lifestyle affecting our health?

Academics from across the University of Sydney will come together with visiting Chinese scholars at an innovative public forum on Thursday 4 August to analyse how increasing urbanisation has impacted our society and health.

Urban development and industrialisation are just two of the many factors that contribute to the epidemic of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease, one of the greatest challenges to human health in the 21st century.

The forum has been jointly convened by Shanghai Jiao Tong University and a new cross-disciplinary University of Sydney centre that aims to significantly reduce the personal and social burden of these diseases by transforming the way we eat, work and live.

"The causes of these health problems are not just medical," says Professor David Cook, the centre's academic director.

In fact, he says, the problems have their origins in a complex interplay of factors that can be represented as 50 percent lifestyle, 20 percent biological and 20 percent environmental.

"Environment has a large impact on health. This forum is an embodiment of the centre's interest in breaking down disciplinary barriers and finding innovative entry points to this complex problem."

The new centre will draw together a diverse community of researchers and academics who have the capability to consider everything from food production to the economics of grocery shopping, the physiology of metabolic disorders, clinical translational research, public policy, health economics, law and regulation, behavioural sciences and cultural studies.

Thursday's forum will feature speakers from architecture, medicine and nutrition, and sociology, and be chaired by Professor John Buchanan, director of the University's Workplace Research Centre.

"One of the key insights of international comparative health studies is that the problems of chronic disease rise with economic development," says Professor Buchanan.

"People's basic biology does not change in a half a decade, but the incidence of diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease does, and grows as countries industrialise."

As well as University of Sydney academics, the public forum will also feature Professor Bao Yuqian from the Shanghai Clinical Centre of Diabetes, who is visiting Australia to take part in a symposium on chronic disease research and medical education that the University is holding with Shanghai Jiao Tong University School of Medicine.

Event details

What: Urban development: Impact on society and health, a public forum

When: 5.30 to 7pm, Thursday 4 August

Where: Room 106, New Law Building, Camperdown Campus



  • Introduction: Professor David Cook, Academic Director, Centre for Obesity, Diabetes and Cardiovascular Disease
  • Chair: Professor John Buchanan, Director, Workplace Research Centre


  • Sustainability - what's health got to do with it?
    Associate Professor Ruth Colagiuri, Director, Health and Sustainability Unit, Boden Institute of Obesity, Nutrition, Exercise and Eating Disorders, the University of Sydney
  • Rapid development, diabetes and obesity and prevention tactics in China
    Professor Bao Yuqian, Shanghai Clinical Centre of Diabetes, People's Hospital, Shanghai Jiao Tong University
  • Social impacts of urbanisation and urban redevelopment in China
    Dr David Bray, Department of Sociology and Social Policy, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, the University of Sydney
  • Sustainable cities: sustaining the environment, sustaining good health
    Professor Michael Tawa, Faculty of Architecture, Design and Planning, the University of Sydney

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