For Australia's Flying Doctors, Obesity Carries A Cost

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The Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia, a historic outfit known around the world for providing health care and transport to patients in remote regions since the 1930s, now faces a uniquely 21st-century problem -- the obesity epidemic. Stretchers on new aircraft for air ambulance service in Australia are now required to handle patients weighing up to 570 pounds, almost twice the previous limit. Alan Tippett, spokesman for the RFDS, told the Daily Telegraph that besides upgrading to stronger stretchers, the organization is considering buying two larger airplanes, which would cost about AU$10 million each. "It is alarming to consider that the number of people who are obese has increased so much that special equipment is needed to lift those in a medical emergency to safety," Australia's Acting Health Minister Ian Macdonald told the Telegraph. "This should be a wake-up call to the community to watch what they eat by cutting down on fats and sugars and increasing how often they exercise." The story followed recent reports that more than 7.5 million Australian adults are overweight or obese, representing more than one third of the country's total population.

Worldwide, there are more than 1 billion overweight adults, at least 300 million of them obese, according to the World Health Organization. "The obesity epidemic is not restricted to industrialized societies; this increase is often faster in developing countries than in the developed world," says WHO. Childhood obesity also is already epidemic in some areas and on the rise in others. An estimated 22 million children under five are estimated to be overweight worldwide. Obesity can lead to debilitating and life-threatening health problems, according to WHO.