Emotional eating is playing a substantial role in fueling Australia’s obesity epidemic, according to a new research.

The research undertaken by nationwide “weight management” company, Cambridge Weight Plan, found that 83 percent of overweight or obese Australians “eat emotionally”.

Dr. Ali Dale, a consultant at a weight management clinic in the Cambridge network, said that stress and depression can trigger a “vicious cycle” of obesity.

“Over 90 percent of Australian women who struggle with their weight comfort eat, we know that 86 percent of men who struggle with their weight comfort eat,” Dale told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) on Thursday.

“Even if it’s not a diagnosable mental health condition we know that if you’re overweight then you’re more likely to have certain hormones released into your system and you’re more likely to look for high fat, high sugar foods.

“If you’re eating high fat, high sugar foods you gain more weight.

“We know that society judges you, you don’t move as easily and so therefore you feel worse about yourself but then that releases those same hormones which drives us to comfort eat even more.”

Anti-obesity campaigns in Australia have mostly been based on a premise of “eat less, exercise more” — a message Dale says is too simplistic.

“My hope would be that there’s a greater awareness of the complexity of our relationship with food and that we start to move away from the eat less, exercise more’ type messages,” she said.

“There’s a whole brain science behind what drives people to comfort eat and there’s a psychology to that relationship.

“If it was that simple we wouldn’t have the challenges that we have.”

The latest National Health Survey conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) found that 63 percent of Australians were either overweight or obese.

The Australian Federal Government has spent in excess of USD 70 million in the past two years trying to combat weight gain and obesity from a mental health perspective.