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A woman shops at Yorkdale Mall in Toronto.Charla Jones/The Globe and Mail

Obesity is on the rise and becoming increasingly costly, according to new report.

But the 54-page study from the Canadian Institute for Health Information and the Public Health Agency of Canada also notes that some simple measures - at least in theory - like exercising more could avert a lot of weight gain.

"Not surprisingly, this report shows that improving lifestyle behaviours, such as healthy eating and physical activity, can have a significant impact on reducing the waistlines and improving the health of Canadians," said Jeremy Veillard, vice-president of research and analysis at CIHI.

At the same time, he pointed out that there are many "interconnected factors" - chief among them poverty - that interfere with the ability to make healthy choices.

Here are some highlights of the new report entitled Obesity in Canada:

  • Obesity cost the Canadian economy somewhere between $4.6-billion and $7.1-billion a year. Those costs are split pretty evenly between direct health-care costs and indirect costs such as lost productivity of people unable to work either because of disability or because they are unable to find employment due to discrimination.
  • About 15 per cent of women and 17 per cent of men are considered obese, based on their self-reported height and weight. (Obese is defined as having a body mass index over 30, meaning roughly 30 per cent of body weight is composed of fat.)

However, when researchers actually measured and weighed Canadians, they found that more than 1 in 4 adults - 25.4 per cent - were actually obese.

  • That means there are somewhere between 3.3 million and 5.2 million Canadian adults who are obese, depending on the method of calculation.
  • There are more obese males than obese females in every age category, except the over-75 group.
  • More than half of Canadians, 51.1 per cent, report being overweight, meaning they have a BMI of over 25. When they are actually weighed and measured that increases to 62 per cent. That means almost 13 million Canadians are of an unhealthy weight.
  • In the past 30 years, the percentage of obese adults in the population has doubled.
  • Obesity is increasing not only in numbers but in severity. The biggest increases have been in the number of morbidly obese -those whose BMI exceeds 40.
  • About 1 in 11 children - 8.6 per cent - are considered obese.
  • In children and youth, the prevalence of obesity tripled between 1979 and 2008.
  • As you move from west to east across the country, obesity rates increase: British Columbia has the lowest prevalence at 12.8 per cent and Newfoundland and Labrador the highest at 25.4 per cent.
  • There is a six-fold variation in obesity rates between various regions of Canada.
  • Canada's "lightest" community is suburban Richmond, B.C., with an obesity rate of 5.3 per cent.
  • Canada's "heaviest" community is the Mamawetan/Keewatin/Athabasca region of northern Saskatchewan, with an obesity rate of 35.9 per cent.
  • Obesity rates are strikingly high among Canada's aboriginal people: 37.8 per cent of aboriginal adults are obese based on measured height and weight; the self-reported obesity rate is 25.7 per cent among aboriginal adults.
  • Obesity rates among aboriginal children differ by background: 17 per cent among Métis, 20 per cent among off-reserve First Nations and 25.6 per cent among the Inuit. (There is no good data for on-reserve First Nations children.)
  • International obesity rates vary greatly, from a low of 3.4 per cent in Japan to 34.3 per cent in the United States.
  • Socio-economic status is a good predictor of obesity. For example, in Halifax, 11 per cent of those in the highest 20 per cent of income earners are obese, compared with 26 per cent of those in the lowest-income group.
  • Women in high-income families are significantly less likely to be obese than women in low-income families. However, that does not hold true for men.
  • Physical inactivity - meaning a person is active less than 15 minutes a day - is the greatest predictor of obesity.
  • An estimated 646,000 cases of obesity in women and 405,000 cases of obesity in men could be averted if inactive populations became active.
  • Similarly, getting those who eat virtually no fruits and vegetables to eat the minimally recommended five servings daily could result in 265,000 fewer men being obese and 97,000 fewer women being obese.
  • If low-income Canadians shifted to a higher-income group, that could result in 158,000 fewer women being obese, but there would be no significant difference in men.
  • Obesity significantly increases the risk of 18 chronic illnesses, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, osteoarthritis and some forms of cancer.
  • Almost 45 per cent of morbidly obese Canadians and 27 per cent of the obese suffer from cardiovascular disease; by comparison, 8 per cent of normal weight and 16 per cent of overweight Canadians have heart trouble.
  • About 9.3 per cent of all deaths in Canada can be attributed to obesity.

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