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Country report

One in five Canadians will be obese by 2019

It is estimated that most of the Canadian adult population will be classed as overweight (34.2%) or obese (21.2%) by 2019
Obesity has an associated annual cost in Canada estimated at between C$4.6 and C$7.1 billion.

The number of obese Canadians has tripled since the mid-1980s and if the trend continues more than one in five Canadians will be obese by 2019, according to a study 'Current and predicted prevalence of obesity in Canada: a trend analysis' published in the journal CMAJ Open. Obesity has an associated annual cost in Canada estimated at between C$4.6 and C$7.1 billion.

Interestingly, there has been a sharp rise in the number of extremely overweight adults, with the highest proportion of obese adults in the Atlantic provinces and the lowest in wealthy and healthy British Columbia. In five provinces of Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Saskatchewan and Manitoba there will be more adults who are overweight and obese than adults with a healthy weight by 2019.

Dr Laurie Twells

“We have a growing number of these people and we haven’t really sorted out the treatment for obesity,” said Dr Laurie Twells, an associate professor in the school of pharmacy and faculty of medicine at Memorial University in St John’s and co-author of the study. “We’re not actually curing it. We haven’t managed to help people lose weight and keep it off, other than through something like bariatric surgery.”

The authors calculated BMIs for adults aged 18 years and older who were not in long-term care using data from Canadian health surveys administered between 1985 and 2011. Calculation of the BMIs was based on self-reported heights and weights.

Results

They found that between 1985 and 2011, the prevalence of adult obesity in Canada increased from 6.1% to 18.3%. Furthermore, since 1985, the prevalence of obesity in classes I, II and III increased from 5.1% to 13.1%, from 0.8% to 3.6%, and from 0.3% to 1.6%, respectively (Figure 1).

Figure 1: (A) Prevalence of adults classified as overweight or obese in Canada from 1985 to 2011, by weight category (B) Percentage change in the prevalence of overweight and obesity in Canada by weight category, using 1985 data as a baseline

"Although class I obesity appears to be increasing at a slower rate in Canada, the rate for the higher classes of obesity continue to increase disproportionately, a finding consistent with other studies," added Twells. "These results raise concern at a policy level, because people in these obesity classes are at a much higher risk of developing complex care needs."

Taking into account regional variations, they predict “that by 2019 the prevalence of obesity in classes I, II and III will increase to 14.8%, 4.4% and 2.0%, respectively, and that half of the Canadian provinces will have more overweight or obese adults than normal-weight adults.”

By 2019, it is estimated that most (55.4%) of the Canadian adult population will be classed as overweight (34.2%) or obese (21.2%) and the researchers estimate that the prevalence for obese classes I, II and III will increase to 14.8%, 4.4% and 2.0%, respectively (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Predictions of future prevalence of adult obesity in Canada 2013-2019 by weight category

“These results raise concern at a policy level, because people in these obesity classes are at a much higher risk of developing complex care needs,” the authors write. “In Canada, there is no country-wide coordinated effort to address the adult obesity epidemic…without a complete synthesis of what each province is doing, it is very difficult to know if these differences can be explained by the uptake or implementation of federal, provincial, community-wide or local initiatives.”

They cite the example of provincial variations that exist in the provision of bariatric surgery, as well as the training or lack of training of health professionals in weight management and the lack of patient access to dieticians and psychologists.

“An improved understanding of why such substantial interprovincial variations exist is necessary, including a focus on evaluating existing policies, programs and approaches to the prevention, management and treatment of obesity,” the authors conclude.  

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