Comprehensive new report examines how obesity varies across Canada, who’s most at risk and possible actions to address it
June 20, 2011—Eliminating all physical inactivity among Canadian adults (defined as less than 15 minutes of low-impact activity a day) could avert the equivalent of 646,000 cases of obesity in women and 405,000 cases in men, according to an analysis included in a comprehensive joint report released today by the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) and the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC). Similarly, improving poor-quality diets—as measured by the frequency of fruit and vegetable consumption—could result in the equivalent of 265,000 fewer cases of obesity among men and 97,000 fewer cases of obesity among women. However, people’s ability to achieve higher physical activity levels and healthier eating habits is influenced by many interconnected factors.
“Not surprisingly, this report shows that improving lifestyle behaviours, such as healthy eating and physical activity, can have a significant impact on reducing the waistlines and improving the health of Canadians. However, obesity is complex, and there are many other factors that contribute beyond lifestyle habits,” says Jeremy Veillard, Vice President of Research and Analysis at CIHI. “By shedding light on the factors most closely associated with obesity and how they play out across Canada, policy-makers and health providers can better target prevention and treatment options to meet the needs of the population.”
“Reducing obesity levels and promoting healthy weights is critical to the prevention of ill health,” says Dr. Judith Bossé, Assistant Deputy Minister, Public Health Agency of Canada. “Obesity increases the risk of a number of chronic conditions, including type 2 diabetes, hypertension and some forms of cancers. That’s why we’re examining options to address the factors that lead to obesity, and we are working with various levels of government, non-governmental organizations and other stakeholders on this issue.”
Obesity in Canada provides an overview of the prevalence of obesity among adults, children and youth, and Aboriginal Peoples (First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples); the determinants and impact of obesity across the country; as well as Canadian and international lessons learned in obesity prevention and reduction. Based on measured height and weight, more than 1 in 4 adults in Canada and just less than 1 in 11 children are considered obese. Between 1981 and 2009, obesity based on measured height and weight data roughly doubled across all age groups and tripled for youth (age 12 to 17).
Across Canadian health regions, there is a six-fold variation in adult obesity rates, ranging from lows of 5.3% of the population in Richmond, British Columbia, and 6.2% in Vancouver, B.C., to highs of 32.1% in Kings County, Prince Edward Island, and 35.9% in the Mamawetan/Keewatin/Athabasca region of Saskatchewan. This variation mirrors the differences in obesity rates seen across developed countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
However, the CIHI–PHAC report found that regional variations across Canada were not due to lifestyle factors alone. In fact, only 50% of the populations in both Mamawetan/Keewatin/Athabasca and Richmond reported being physically inactive.
Regional differences in obesity may be related to the following:
The report, as well as the following figures, is available on our website at www.cihi.ca.
Established in 1994, CIHI is an independent, not-for-profit corporation that provides essential information on Canada’s health system and the health of Canadians. Funded by federal, provincial and territorial governments, CIHI is guided by a Board of Directors made up of health leaders across the country. Our vision is to improve Canada’s health system and the well-being of Canadians by being a leading source of unbiased, credible and comparable information that will enable health leaders to make better-informed decisions.