Australia’s Obesity Battle Weighs Heavy on Healthcare

Australia now has one of the highest obesity rates in the world. With over 60% of Australians now above a healthy weight, it’s fair to say Australia’s ‘battle of the bulge’ is growing to epidemic proportions. As our population ages, older Australians (over 55 years of age) are being caught up in this health crisis. Older people are now 6-7 kilograms heavier than their counterparts were 20 years ago.

With our more sedentary lifestyle and easier access to energy-dense foods, this problem is set to continue, fuelled by children and young adults gaining weight at a higher rate than ever before. With an estimated 1 in 3 Australian adults becoming obese by 2025, it’s an issue that healthcare providers need to plan for today.

We know that obesity contributes to a range of medical problems. People carrying excess weight are at higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease, some cancers, kidney disease, osteoarthritis, and other chronic conditions.

For our healthcare system, this translates into more frequent hospital admissions and longer stays. This increasing reliance on healthcare has serious implications for hospitals, for nurses and carers, and for aged care facilities. The annual cost of treating obesity-related diseases is projected to increase from $8 billion (in 2012) to $21 billion by 2025. Looking at that number, it’s important to recognise its implications on not only the provision of services, pharmaceuticals and care, but also on the increasing need for specialised equipment to accommodate larger and heavier patients.

This investment includes providing wider and stronger trolleys, wheelchairs, armchairs and beds. Bariatric monitoring and assistance equipment also needs to be factored in, as well as pressure care solutions for patients who are bedridden for prolonged periods. Additionally, there is also an important health and safety concern for nurses and carers. The manual handling of obese patients poses significant challenges for both the patients themselves, and for those caring for them.

Occupational injuries are reportedly highest for staff of hospitals, residential and aged care services, and are predominantly related to manual lifting and transferring of patients. In some healthcare facilities, full-time safety staff have been appointed to oversee safe manual handling of obese patients due to staff injuries.

It’s time for better bariatric care

The obesity problem isn’t going away, and obese patients deserve the same level of safety in healthcare as any other Australian. Healthcare facilities are beginning to understand the need for investing in equipment for moving, managing and caring for obese patients safely while preserving their dignity.

The range of commercially available equipment designed for obese patients is growing. Items include:

  • Manual and powered wheelchairs
  • Mobile and ceiling hoists and slings
  • Reinforced beds, trolleys and chairs
  • Walking frames and other mobility equipment
  • Shower chairs and floor-mounted toilets
  • Weighing devices for non-ambulant people
  • Pressure mattresses for beds and chairs
  • Aids to assist with turning or lifting patients in bed

This equipment needs to be reinforced and able to support weights of up to 300kgs. To achieve this, bariatric equipment is typically strengthened by a variety of methods including using stronger metals and thicker tubing. Rigid frames (as opposed to frames with moving parts such as folding frames) are also used to support heavier patients, reducing their risk of a fall. Additionally, monitoring equipment such as fall alarms and roll-out systems are available to ease the burden on healthcare staff.

Paving a new road ahead

With a recent study finding that the majority of patients living with clinically severe obesity are unable to access adequate care in the public hospital system, the needs and safety of these patients is an issue that healthcare providers can no longer ignore. Healthcare safety equipment provider Keystone Health Supplies offer bariatric solutions for rental or purchase. We work with leading bariatric equipment manufacturers worldwide to provide hospitals, aged care facilities and private residences with affordable and reliable equipment.

It’s our goal to reduce preventable injuries in healthcare settings and promote safe care for those at their most vulnerable across Australia.

To discuss your facility’s bariatric equipment needs, call us on 1300 547 877.