Australian women fall short of health guidelines

U. QUEENSLAND (AUS) — Women in Australia are exercising less and most are not eating nearly enough vegetables, researchers have found.

Drawing data from one of the biggest studies ever conducted with Australian women—the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health (ALSWH)—researchers from The University of Queensland and the University of Newcastle compared women’s lifestyles with national guidelines for good health behaviors and screening.

The study, Adherence to health guidelines: Findings from the ALSWH, reports that fewer women than ever are meeting guidelines concerning healthy weight, with almost half of all the women surveyed considered overweight or obese.

Women between the ages of 34 and 39 years have gained the most weight since the survey was last conducted, with 45 percent of the group now overweight or obese, up from 40 percent in 2009.

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The same group also saw a decline in the percentage of women engaging in the recommended 30 minutes of physical activity a day, with only 44 percent managing to complete half an hour of exercise on most days each week.

The findings reflect how changes in women’s lives impacted their physical activity, says Wendy Brown, a professor at the University of Queensland and one of the report’s lead authors.

“Most women are also failing to meet dietary guidelines, particularly around consuming five servings of vegetables a day. Less than one percent of women aged 35-39, only two percent of women aged 61-66 years, and eight percent of women aged 86-91 years are eating the recommended amount.”

Just as troubling, researchers say, is that nutritionally poor, energy dense “extras” make up an increasingly large part of most women’s diets, with most eating more than the recommended four servings per day.

The study also shows that, contrary to current guidelines, most women consume alcohol during pregnancy, indicating a need for pregnant women to pay particular attention to a healthy lifestyle.

On the positive side, the study shows that most non-pregnant women are heeding advice regarding alcohol consumption and health screenings including blood pressure and cholesterol checks, and messages about quitting smoking are getting through, says Julie Byles, professor at the University of Newcastle and co-director of ALSWH.

“Smoking rates are down, although women living in rural areas or with a lower educational status are still more likely to continue to smoke.”

The project began with more than 40,000 women randomly selected from the Medicare database in 1996. It involves three large, nationally representative, cohorts of Australian women representing three generations.

The women have now been surveyed up to six times over the past 16 years, providing a large amount of data on their lifestyles, use of health services, and health outcomes. In October 2012, the ALSWH will add a new cohort of 18-23 year old women.

The ALSWH is funded by the Australian Government through the Department of Health and Aging.

Source: University of Queensland