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Country watch

Canadian adult obesity hit record levels

The percentage of people who are obese is has implications for health-care costs

A University of British Columbia study has reported that obesity rates across Canada have risen to record levels. Published in the Canadian Journal of Public Health, the authors claim the study provides the first comprehensive look at adult obesity rates in all Canadian provinces since 1998, with detailed maps outlining the increase in each province.

"Being obese or overweight significantly increases the risk of chronic illnesses, such as heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers," says study lead author, Professor Carolyn Gotay, School of Population and Public Health. "Our analysis shows that more Canadians are obese than ever before -- on average, between one fourth and one third of Canadians are obese, depending on the region."

The study used self-reported BMI data from the Canadian Community Health Survey, which researchers adjusted to get more accurate estimates. Over the 11-year study period, the researchers found the greatest increases occurred between 2000 and 2007.

Figure 1: Changes in Canadian obesity rates 2000-2011

The Atlantic provinces and the Nunavut and the Northwest Territories had the highest obesity rates from 2000 to 2011; more than 30% of the population in these regions is estimated to be obese. British Columbia had the lowest overall rates, but obesity still increased from less than 20% to almost 25%. Meanwhile, rates in Quebec remained below 24%.

Gotay said that the data shows that in certain areas, the percentage of people who are obese is “alarming and does have implications for health-care costs and quality of life down the road.”

The study also published obesity maps to serve as a tool to regional authorities to monitor and act on these trends.

“The maps provide a compelling pan-Canadian portrait that can lead to an impetus for action for the public, health care providers, and decision makers,” the authots write. “Such colour-coded maps offer an efficient way to convey complex data that transcends language differences and personalises the data for the viewer.”

In 2008, the effects of obesity were estimated to cost the Canadian economy CA$4.6-billion, an increase of 20% from 2000.

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