Obesity rates a weighty issue

Apr 14th, 2014

Heidi Wicks

Obesity rates a weighty issue

For every green smoothie recipe, there’s a brand new deep-fried, double-patty, fast food phenomenon (with extra bacon) waiting to be snatched up at a drive-thru window near you.

Despite our culture’s media mass that advocates the importance of fitness and healthy eating, the majority of Canadians are overweight or obese, according to a recent article published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ).

The study estimates that more than one in every five Canadians will be obese by 2019 with provincial variations that are concerning.

“We live in an obesogenic environment, meaning our culture of desk jobs, use of technology and access to highly processed food make it so that we have to put a real effort into being active and healthy.” explains Dr. Laurie Twells, associate professor in the School of Pharmacy and Faculty of Medicine, and co-author of the article. “In many ways, we live in an environment that actively works against us when it comes to maintaining a healthy body weight.”

Dr. Twells adds that the prevalence of normal-weight people in Canada is steadily decreasing.

“The more telling story that came from our study was the disproportionate jump in the higher obese classes,” she says.

Drawing on data from a number of Statistics Canada surveys conducted over a 26-year period, the study describes obesity levels as class I, II or III, with body mass indexes (BMI’s) ranging between 30 and 40 or higher. The heftiest rate of increase was noted amongst the class III group, which increased from 0.3% in 1985 to 1.6% in 2011 - a 433% per cent increase.

Because people in these classes are at a much higher risk of developing complex care needs such as diabetes, hypertension, sleep apnea and cardiovascular disease, the results of the study raise concerns at the policy level.

“We have a growing number of people in the higher obese classes and we haven’t really sorted out the treatment for obesity. We’re not curing it,” Dr. Twells told the Globe and Mail last month. “We haven’t managed to help many people lose weight and keep it off, other than through bariatric surgery, which is the only effective treatment that results in substantial and sustained weight loss for very obese individuals.”

Although the whole country is becoming increasingly hefty, some provinces are at greater risk than others.

Newfoundland and Labrador and New Brunswick have the highest rates of obesity in Canada, with individuals over the age of 40 years being more likely than younger people to be overweight or obese.

In five provinces that include Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, by 2019 it is estimated that more people will be overweight or obese than normal weight.

The strain of obesity on the health care system is significant, with annual costs estimated between $4.6 and 7.1 billion, according to researchers.  

“Although the impact of a policy change can take 20-30 years, regardless of any province’s plan of action, by investing in resources for the prevention of obesity and management that includes helping individuals maintain body weight and treating very obese patients – if effective and cohesive action is taken we can prevent these number from creeping even higher.”

Read the full paper.




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