Obesity in the North Zone

Canada is a big country. This poses important challenges for the delivery of health care, an issue that I became acutely reminded of, during yesterday’s visit to Grande Prairie, Alberta, to discuss plans for a provincial strategy on obesity prevention and bariatric care.

The “North Zone” of the province (Zone 5 on the map), one of five health zones under the jurisdiction of Alberta Health Services, extends about 1400 km north to south and about 700 km east to west, comprises of about 72% of Alberta’s landmass or about 500,000 square Km and is home to just about 500,000 people – approximately 1 person per square km.

The three major cities are Grande Prairie (~60,000), Fort McMurray (~90,000) and Cold Lake (~12,000). Another 110,000 inhabitants are spread over 30 towns and 16 villages.

The North Zone also has a large Aboriginal population, with over 20 Nations living in over 90 reserves as well as 8 Metis settlements.

Public health services are delivered through 49 public health/community health services offices while acute care is delivered through 31 hospitals and health care centres with a total of just over 600 acute care beds. There are also 25 mental health clinics, a 63-bed addiction treatment centre and 17 adult and youth outpatient and addiction prevention area offices.

The North Zone directly employs about 10,000 health care staff. The Zone is also served by 333 family doctors and 57 specialists.

So much for the geography and the health services metrics – as readers will have guessed, the North Zone also has the highest rates of obesity and related health problems in Alberta, which, of course, was the reason for my visit.

Given the impact of obesity and the magnitude of the problem, it was perhaps not that surprising, to see that my visit was met with a most impressive turnout of administrative leads for a wide range of relevant services as well as many front-line health professionals (via video-conferencing from over 45 different sites), who joined in the discussions on obesity prevention and expanding obesity management services in the North.

I certainly look forward to my involvement in this massive endeavour over the coming months and years.

Edmonton, Alberta