The Verdict is in: Canadians
Are Fat, Sick and Weak
A multitude of seductive video screens and a lack of healthy entertainment
alternatives has led to a profound increase in obesity and decline
in fitness levels across Canada over the past quarter-century, a
new nationwide survey reveals.
The proportion of Canadians with bloated waistlines has ballooned
as much as fivefold as our strength and endurance slipped precariously,
according to the most comprehensive study of health and weight
in this country since 1981.
The two reports from the Canadian Health Measures Survey, released
Wednesday by Statistics Canada, have experts worried these twin
perils could send cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and
cancer rates off the scales.
"There are many factors influencing this, and almost all are
influencing it in a bad way," says Mark Tremblay, who co-authored
the reports. "The multitude of the (viewing) screens we have
available, the seductiveness of what they provide and allow us to
do in a climate-controlled environment close to the pantry
it's easy and we're in control."
Experts say the stark findings the report on children
and youth states "Children are taller, heavier, fatter and
weaker than in 1981" should bring home the message
once and for all that society needs to eat better, move more and
spend less time on the couch.
Children growing up today will reach an unhealthy level of fitness
faster than ever before, says Brian Timmons, professor of pediatrics
at McMaster's Children's Exercise & Nutrition Centre.
"You are cutting years off your life by starting off with
lower fitness levels," he says.
Among other things, the survey found:
About 17 per cent of Canadian children were overweight and 9
per cent were obese.
The proportion of boys ages 15 to 19 classified as overweight
or obese rose from 14 per cent in 1981 to 31 per cent in 2009.
Among teen girls the number rose from 14 per cent to 25 per cent.
Only 38 per cent of adults were at a healthy weight, while 62
per cent were overweight or obese.
Among those ages 60 to 69, about 65 per cent of women and 52
per cent of men were at high risk for health problems.
The proportion of adults 20 to 39 who had dangerously large waist
circumferences quadrupled among males since 1981, to 21 per cent,
and rose fivefold among the women, to 31 per cent.
The survey, by StatsCan and the Public Health Agency of Canada,
involved 5,600 Canadians from ages 6 to 79. Data was collected
at 15 sites across the country, including in Toronto.
Researchers conducted in-home interviews, took blood pressure,
height, weight and body measurements, including waistlines, and
asked participants to perform standard fitness tests. Results
were collected between March 2007 and February 2009.
Previous surveys that relied on Canadians to report their height,
weight and nutrition and fitness habits are considered less reliable.
Researchers say the data will be used as a national baseline for
a variety of health concerns, such as obesity and high blood pressure.
Tremblay, says there has been an abject failure on the part of
health policy-makers to provide appealing alternatives to lure
Canadians off their backsides and away from our growing addiction
to flat-screen televisions, DVDs, computers and portable video
"We need to put structures in place to bring (sedentary
activities) back to a right balance," he says. "Sadly,
I don't think that's where we've stepped up."
Tremblay says supervised playgrounds, increased physical education
programs and major government investments in sports programs and
facilities could help get children and adults onto their feet.
But what's needed most urgently, he says, is an all-out, government-backed
marketing campaign that will impress on Canadians just how out
of shape most of them are.
"Many people do not see themselves as part of this problem,
yet the statistics bear out that almost all of us are," he
Ken Allison, professor at the University of Toronto's Dalla Lana
School of Public Health, said parents can be part of the solution
by enforcing strict guidelines that limit a child's "screen
time" to two hours a day. They can also lobby schools and
their community to create more opportunities for physical activity
for young people.
Research by Allison has shown the number of Ontario students
taking part in sports and other physical activities has dropped
over the last five years, as have intramural or inter-school programs
Timmons suggests kids be given more time for play and unstructured
activity, when their natural tendencies are toward short, rigorous
bouts of physical activity.
The usual suspects, such as fast food and video games, have played
a part in Canada's fitness crisis, says survey co-author Margot
Shields. But, she said technology in general may be a factor.
"We have a lot more modern conveniences now."
January 20, 2010