Home' Link : Link Issue2 Contents As well as preaching healthy eating from behind the
microphone, Burke has been r unning workshops with
childcare centre staff to get to young Australians early. "The
aim of the workshops is to look at a typical lunch box and
talk through salt and sugar content, in particular, then
design a healthy lunch box," she says. "The staff take a
range of resources back to the centres with them, as well as
information targeted at parents to help them make healthier
choices for their kids."
At the same time as Burke has been highlighting the
physical ill- effects of poor nutrition, CQUniversity's Professor
of Contemporary Nursing and Director of the Institute for
Health and Social Science Research Brenda Happell and
her colleagues, Research Fellow Jodie Morris, Post-Doctoral
Research Fellow Stefan Koehn, Senior Lecturer Tr udy
Dwyer and Associate Professor Lorna Moxham, have been
undertaking a study into the effect of obesity on mental
Their paper, Implications of excess weight on mental
wellbeing (Australian Health Review 2010), is based on data
from more than 1200 volunteers. Happell says the researchers
looked at people between 18 and 93 years of age with a mean
age of 51.1 years. They found that Australians carrying excess
weight are more likely to be anxious and depressed than their
healthy-weight counterparts, in particular those who are
middle-aged. "Obesity has a significant association with poor
mental wellbeing for individuals who are aged 45 to 54 years,"
This study is the first to demonstrate a link between excess
weight and poor mental health in the Australian population
and it adds to a growing body of work worldwide that links
obesity to poor mental health.
In September 2004, the prestigious Harvard Mental Health
Letter looked at the undefined relationship between the two.
The American Psychiatric Association has never regarded
overeating or excess weight as a psychiatric disorder, and most
obese people do not qualify for a psychiatric diagnosis, it said.
"From attention, focus and
behaviour in children, to
migraines, eczema and
long-term chronic disease
in adulthood, food has been
linked to a huge range of
medical conditions, sparking
concern in Australia and
" says CQUniversity's
Dr Karena Burke.
However, obesity can lead to ill health, which is linked
to depression and anxiety. Overweight people are also more
likely to lose the psychological benefits of exercise, the letter
Two years earlier, researchers at the University of
Wisconsin-Madison had found that obese people had higher
rates of depression. They studied 2,931 patients with chronic
health conditions including obesity and found that clinical
depression was highest in very obese participants (those with a
body-mass index of over 35).
Most recently, an analysis of long-term studies of the
relationship between dementia and body weight by the
Australian National University's Centre for Mental Health
found that people who have been overweight or obese have two
to three times the risk of suffering dementia in old age.
To avoid the ill health that goes with tipping the scales
at a weight higher than recommended, Burke says people
really need to educate themselves about what their bodies are
designed to consume and what's actually in the food they eat.
"I guess the biggest tip would be not to take anything
at face value." ≫
DR KARENA BURKE
• Originally from Tasmania Karena
moved to Rockhampton in
Central Queensland in 2008.
• She is recently married and has
an 11-year-old son and two step
daughters aged 11 and 8 years.
• Her PhD topic Adjusting to Life on
the Beat looked at the poor diets
of police officers.
• Karena is lactose intolerant and
her son also has food allergies --
this triggered her research into
the impact of food on wellbeing.
• She has run a number of support
groups for people with food
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