Professor Edward Janus of the Department of Medicine at Western Health in Melbourne, and his colleagues from the Greater Green Triangle University Department of Rural Health, studied the rates of overweight, obesity, and metabolic syndrome in rural Australia.
They found that 64 per cent of women and 74 per cent of men in the two rural areas studied were overweight or obese with a predominance of abdominal obesity.
Metabolic syndrome, abdominal obesity, and other risk factors for chronic disease all increased with age.
"Obesity is a risk factor for many chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, certain types of cancer, and mental health problems," the authors say.
"Early warning signs of the overweight and obesity epidemic were apparent from National Heart Foundation of Australia data in 1989, yet insufficient notice was taken at the time.
"Now that there is a major problem, urgent action is required at the highest level to change unhealthy lifestyle habits by improving diet, increasing physical activity and making our environments supportive of these objectives."
The authors say there is a need for population-based interventions, such as public awareness campaigns, and ongoing monitoring and research to determine the impact of those interventions - an approach not unlike that which has dramatically reduced smoking in Australia.
"Current surveillance systems such as the Australian Bureau of Statistics national health surveys using self reported rather than objectively measured height and weight, consistently underestimate the true prevalence of overweight and obesity."
The Medical Journal of Australia is a publication of the Australian Medical Association.