Posted by: 4pack | January 15, 2010

Obesity In Canada: Two Decades Of Governmental “Health-Risk Awareness” Programs Have Proved Ineffective As Two-Thirds Of Canadians Are Overweight Or Obese


DESPITE all the money spent over the past two decades to heighten awareness about the health risks of a sedentary lifestyle, Canadians are fatter and less fit than ever.

This depressing bit of news was delivered Wednesday by Statistics Canada. The most comprehensive assessment of the fitness levels of children and adults since 1981, the Canadian Health Measures Survey, determined that two in three adults are overweight or obese.

The kids aren’t far behind; one in four is overweight or obese. The study used the generous allowances of the body mass index formula to determine ideal weight ranges for participants.

The study did not include provincial breakdowns, but Nova Scotia has ranked near the top among provinces for obesity in adults or children over recent years. Regardless, the findings are discouraging in a nation that continues to struggle with skyrocketing health-care costs, increasing dependence on the system and a population that is aging.

Former premier John Hamm achieved bragging rights and an important priority when he became the first premier in the country to establish a separate Health Promotion and Protection Department in 2002.

In its first year, the budget was a modest $15 million. This year, it hit an all-time high of $89 million.

Whatever they are doing with that money, and considering preventative health efforts in other provinces, it is apparently not enough. The health measures survey, which compares the health and fitness levels of Canadians to similar assessments from 1981, charts a continuing and dismal decline.

“If you look at those numbers, I’d be very surprised to see what actually qualifies as a national crisis, if this does not,” Dr. Arya Sharma, head of obesity studies at the University of Alberta and scientific director of the Canadian Obesity Network, told The Canadian Press.

The study measured health and fitness levels of 5,000 Canadians between the ages of six and 79. The research, which included on-site testing and the use of accelerometers to gauge activity levels, was conducted over a two-year period ending last February.

The study is considered the most accurate of its kind, compared to earlier national surveys, because it does not rely on self-reporting of activity levels. Researchers collected data on body measurements, cardio-respiratory fitness, musculoskeletal fitness and blood pressure.

While the increases in obesity are alarming, researchers were also quick to red flag a disturbing growth in abdominal fat, not just in adults but children as well. Fat in this region of the body significantly raises risk factors for future illness and is much more damaging to overall health than fat deposits below the waist.

And all that talk about children being bigger than ever these days? It’s not good news, researchers found. The larger body sizes among children have not been caused by increased muscle mass. Kids are less flexible, have less muscle strength, higher fat levels and more abdominal fat than the children assessed in 1981.

The study found while fitness and health levels have declined among all age groups, it is most significant among children and young adults age 20 to 29.

While the decline in the health of Canadians is disturbing overall, perhaps the greatest concern should be over our failure to successfully promote — through example as well as programming — healthier lifestyles for our children.

Adults can be responsible for their own lifestyle choices, but as we move toward a second generation of record-setting obesity among our children, the time for more concrete action is long past.

It’s tough to mandate healthy living, but more successful routes have to be found to get our kids off the couch and away from computers. Mind-boggling increases in health-care costs down the road may not be enough to convince adults that things have to change.



  1. Oh wow! That actually really shocks me, especially since I am Canadian – but moved to the states 4 years ago. Abdominal fat indeed increases health risks and particularly the development of Diabetes type II. I remember an initiative the government took years ago in Québec, which was to remove unhealthy/fast food from the school cafeteria choices. Obviously this is not enough… And as much as adults “can be responsible for their own”, they are the ones setting the example for the kids!

    – Kloé

  2. well thats y in high school u try and get involved in alot of sports and stay healthy.

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