ARARAT Rural City Council is seeking $2.5 million in government funding for a three-year project to combat obesity.
The three-year community renewal project will focus on reducing the health burden of obesity in rural Australia through preventive health measures.
In 2011, Ararat was labelled Australia’s most overweight region after a health census found 59.2 per cent of its residents were obese.
Now, after the city became the focus of the television series The Biggest Loser: Challenge Australia, Ararat has shaken off the demeaning ‘Arafat’ and ‘Fatarat’ tags and is rebranding itself as Ararat Active City.
Council’s community development and client services manager Angela Hunt said Ararat residents had banded together and worked hard to improve their health.
“Yes, there was some ‘Hollywood’ involved initially, but the key driving force was a community that didn’t want to be identified as ‘Fatarat’,'' she said.
"Community pride took over and they got into action.
“We are seeing the fruit of this community movement.”
Mrs Hunt said the Alere Wellness Indicator for the Grampians region demonstrated residents’ improvement in a range of areas in the past 12 months.
“The data works with 100 being the average,” she said.
“The high number is positive, because it represents the percentage of people in healthy ranges for each of these indicators.
“It should be noted that it is almost unheard of for BMI data to make that type of gain. It is more common for declines in BMI data.”
Mrs Hunt said the Grampians region was the only country region to show improvement in the past 12 months.
“We think it is very significant,” she said.
The region is showing positive results in fitness, alcohol, smoking and medical scores.
“Our next target is to focus more on healthy eating, because the nutrition line is the only one that is scoring below average for us at the moment,” Mrs Hunt said.
“Ararat rates as one of the highest regions for food insecurity in the state, so there are a range of programs occurring to work towards improving the nutritional intake of our community.”
Mrs Hunt said the proposed renewal project would involve research and evaluation of current activities; provide an innovation think tank to develop new ideas; extend the reach of the work through early childhood programs; develop best practice guidelines for rural communities to tackle the obesity crisis; and improve economic outcomes.
She said this would be achieved through employing skilled staff and developing policy with partner organisations.
Mrs Hunt said although the Ararat community had worked hard to become active and healthy, council was worried momentum would stall if additional support was not provided.
“We need to better understand how we can extend the success of this health resolution across other regional communities and ensure it is sustainable,” she said.
“We cannot do all this within current resource limitations and it is a shame to think opportunities might be lost as a result.”