Australian ambulances bulk up to handle the fat

Other News Materials 10 February 2008 09:59 (UTC +04:00)

( dpa ) - Sports stadiums have widened their seats, funeral parlours have installed ropes and pulleys and now new heavy-lift ambulances have been rolled out to deal with increasing numbers of roly-poly Australians.

"The whole concept of these vehicles is that there's no lifting of the patient by ambulance officers at all," New South Wales Health Minister Reba Meagher said Sunday at the launch of jumbo ambulances.

Costing triple that of a regular ambulance, they are designed for 200-kilogram patients.

"Obesity is a severe health problem and we've all got to pay the price," the minister said.

Ambulance Service operations manager Mike Willis told reporters that with half of Australians now overweight or obese, the ambulance fleet needed beefing up to accord with the new reality.

"Sadly, a few years ago we would do two or three severely obese cases a month and that's now escalated up to six cases a week," Willis said.

Stretchers and wheelchairs in the mega ambulances can carry up to 400 kilograms and handle those with too much girth for a standard ambulance stretcher.

In the latest Australian Bureau of Statistics report, 2 million more adults are classified as overweight or obese than in 1995. Over 7.4 million adults - 54 per cent of the adult population - were classified as overweight or obese compared with the 1995 figure of 45 per cent.

"It has been estimated that obesity and its associated illnesses cost Australian society and governments a total of 21 billion dollars in 2005," the report said.

Among men, the biggest increase in obesity between 1995 and 2005 occurred in the 25-34 age bracket, with the figure jumping 10 per cent to 23 per cent. For women, the biggest increase was in the 35-44 age range, with 20 per cent obesity compared with 12 per cent in 1995.