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EDITORIAL: Tipping the scales

When are we going to get the message? Yet another report on Canadian obesity rates was released this week. To no one’s surprise, the findings highlighted what we all know: physical activity and improved diet significantly reduce the incidence of obesity.

The comprehensive report, a joint effort by the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) and the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), states that eliminating physical inactivity (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. The report goes on to note that increasing the amount of fruits and vegetables we eat could decrease the cases of obesity in men by 265,000 and by 97,000 in women.

In short, we need to eat better and move more – something we all know.

The document (available at www.cihi.ca), Obesity in Canada, breaks down the numbers across the county by various factors, including sex, age, geographic region and cultural and economic background. In the Hamilton and Halton regions, the prevalence of obesity sits at 20.2 per cent and 16.3 per cent, respectively – right on target with the rest of the country, which has shown a steady increase in the measured obesity rate over the past three decades, from about 14 per cent in 1978 to just over 25 per cent in 2002.

Other notable findings:

• More than one in four adults in Canada, and just less than one in 11 children are obese.

• Between 1981 and 2009, obesity rates doubled – and is typically more severe – across all age groups and tripled for youth ages 12-17.

• Obesity varies substantially by geographic area: across Canadian health regions.

• Women in higher income brackets were significantly less likely to be obese than their lower-income counterparts.

Obesity in Canada stresses that causes of and contributors to obesity are complex and include individual lifestyle choices and genetic disposition as well as social determinants and other underlying factors. It also notes that many of the physical and psychological factors may begin in childhood. Further, it found that many Canadians get less than the daily recommended amount of physical activity for their age group, notably, that 88 per cent of children and youth ages 5-19 did not meet the guidelines of Canada’s Physical Activity Guide.

Combine this trend with increased sedentary behaviours (only 19 per cent of youth currently meet the Active Healthy Kids Canada recommendation of less than two hours per day of screen time), and you have a  recipe for a host of chronic conditions, such as Type II diabetes, hypertension and some forms of cancers.

Ultimately, the Obesity in Canada report aims to develop strategies to address the country’s ever-increasing battle of the bulge, and is well worth reading.

However, we all know what we should be doing.

We’re just not doing it.

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