Canadian Obesity Crisis: More Fat, Less Fit

Yesterday, Statistics Canada released its latest report on obesity in Canada.

The report focussed on the latest data from the Canadian Health Measures Survey, which included around 1,000 participants who wore accelerometers for seven consecutive days to objectively measure their levels of physical activity. Additional measurements included tests for physical fitness, flexibility, and anthropometric measures of body size and fat distribution.

Compared to earlier data (albeit collected with less precise methods), there is no doubt that over the past 20 years, Canadians have gotten bigger and less fit. Even more concerning perhaps is the marked increase in abdominal obesity.

None of this bodes well for the health of Canadians. Among the many media interviews I gave yesterday, a quote that perhaps stands out was the one cited by The Canadian Press: “If you look at those numbers I’d be very surprised to see what actually qualifies as a national crisis if this does not.

The problem is that this is a crisis that is evolving in slow motion and therefore it is easy to not address this problem with the urgency devoted to other more spectacular health problems.

As Yoni Freedhoff pointed out in his blog Weighty Matters a few days ago:

So 25,000 obesity and diet related deaths a year and what type of interventions are we seeing? None… Can you imagine how much money and resources would be spent and how much public awareness would be stirred up if West Nile virus killed 25,000 people each and every year?

Where is the National Obesity Task Force forming to address this issue? Where is the Obesity Commission being constituted to work on solutions? Where are the public outcries for Obesity Action Plans? 

Perhaps it is all too easy to blame the individual rather than accepting the fact that obesity is the direct result of the circumstances we have collectively created for ourselves as a society – no one, not one of us, can wash our hands in innocence. 

As I blogged recently, according to the recent WHO/OECD report, even in a best-case scenario, we are unlikely to see population-wide prevention efforts leading to a significant reversal in obesity rates in the next few decades.

This should not serve as an excuse to do nothing – let’s at least start by ensuring that the increasing number of kids and adults already struggling with excess weight have access to evidence-based obesity treatments today.

Edmonton, Alberta