The Gippsland-Latrobe region has some of the worst obesity rates in Victoria, coupled with high levels of smoking and heart disease-related deaths, according to the latest Heart Foundation figures.
The Australian Heart Maps online data shows that more than 38 per cent of people living in Gippsland-Latrobe are obese, which is 22 per cent higher than the state average.
It means Gippsland-Latrobe ranked in the top three of the most obese regions in Victoria, behind Shepparton and Ballarat.
It also revealed that 20 per cent of people in Gippsland-Latrobe were smokers and coronary heart disease death rates were 16 per cent worse than the state average.
The top five regions with the lowest coronary heart disease deaths were all in metro Melbourne.
Heart Foundation chief executive officer Kellie-Ann Jolly told The Express the data showed the great divide between metro and the bush, with regional Victoria topping all key risk factors for heart disease.
Ms Jolly said those in the state’s most disadvantaged areas were more likely to have the most significant risk factors, be hospitalised for heart attack or die from coronary heart disease.
“We see these risks are stark in regional Victoria, particularly if you compare it with inner-Melbourne,” Ms Jolly said.
“This shows that heart health depends on where you live and the socio-economic status of that location. But there are a lot of things an individual can do to take action.”
Ms Jolly urged locals to make an appointment with their GP to get their heart checked out and assess their heart disease risk profile.
However, she called for further investment in regional communities to help support people to access services, drop a few kilos, eat healthy and get active.
She said this could be through helping locals lay off cheaper takeaway food, providing easier access to participate in sport, or options to get out of the car and walk or ride to their destination.
Ms Jolly commended Latrobe City Council for its plan to link the region’s bike trails, which were positive steps towards tackling the region’s obesity rates.
“Obesity is usually around food and our activity, how can we make it easier for people to make changes? We need to make healthy options the easier options,” she said.
“We need to create environments for people to participate in things that are not too expensive, such as making sure healthy food is not more expensive than junk food, and that fresh food is available.”