Tackling obesity in young women key to a healthier Australia

22 March 2011

Researchers from the University of Sydney will this week present new research on weight management in young women at a symposium hosted by the Dietitians Association of Australia. The event is aimed at raising awareness of this public health concern, and potential repercussions for fertility and offspring.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics more than one in five Australian women aged 18-24 years are overweight and 15 per cent are obese, but Professor Kate Steinbeck says that until recently little attention has been given to effective weight loss strategies for this demographic.

"The weight of young women in Australia is increasing at a worrying rate, with important health implications for their reproductive years and beyond," says Professor Steinbeck, Medical Foundation Chair in Adolescent Medicine at the University of Sydney.

In response to this the University of Sydney recently conducted a randomised controlled trial of weight management in young women by comparing two energy controlled diets —one higher in protein and the other higher in carbohydrate —both of which were low in glycaemic index (GI) and fat.

This is one of the first trials worldwide of weight management focusing on young women, with the majority of studies recruiting participants who are middle aged.

"Our data revealed that at 6 months, the young women not only lost more weight and fat with the higher protein diet, but they also tended to feel less hungry and reported that they liked the diet," comments Chief Investigator on the study, Dr Helen O'Connor from the Faculty of Health Sciences.

Dr O'Connor reported that the higher protein red meat diet allowed for the development of a nutritionally adequate, low kilojoule diet that at the same time also met the young women's requirements for iron which are higher during the reproductive years.

While the study showed that young women can do well on a structured weight management program it also highlighted the need for additional guidance and support which is tailored to their needs.

"Young women have different nutritional and lifestyle needs compared to middle aged groups. They are moving out of home, entering into new relationships, regularly eating out and too many are looking at short-term fad diets for a quick fix."

"Further research is needed to identify the type of holistic program that would improve ongoing compliance to effective weight loss strategies such as this," says Dr O'Connor.

The Dietitians Association of Australia says that they are excited by the University of Sydney research, which shows that younger women can lose weight using a healthy, balanced approach, without needing to resort to the latest dietary fad.

"Younger women often turn to fad diets to control their weight. But these extreme diets make it virtually impossible to get the nutrients they need for energy and health," comments Chief Executive Officer, Claire Hewat.

According to Ms Hewat, younger women are part of the 'forgotten group', not children or adolescents and not over 45, so they tend to fall between the cracks of policy and public attention.

The 'Weight Loss in Overweight Young Women' study was funded by Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA). The findings of the study and implications for weight management in young women will be discussed on Wednesday 23 March at a Symposium in Sydney hosted by the Dietitans Association of Australia and sponsored by MLA.

Symposium topics:

Professor Kate Steinbeck: Weight gain in young women: how big is the problem?

Dr Helen O'Connor: Weight loss diets for young women: what works?

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