The number of obese adults in Canada has increased substantially in the last thirty years. During the same period, the number of obese children has tripled. This is a very concerning trend and the obesity epidemic is now one of the main health challenges Canada is faced with. Obesity is expected to overtake smoking as the main cause of preventable deaths in Canada.
In this article, we look into the obesity statistics in Canada. We also look into what obesity is and the causes behind it. You will find information on the percentage of Canadians who are overweight or obese and the consequences to individuals and the Canadian healthcare system. Towards the end of the article, you will also find key statistics on global obesity.
Obesity Statistics for Canadians
- Scientists say that 70-80% of our weight is determined by our genetics.
- Over a quarter of Canadians are obese.
- A third of children and young people in Canada are overweight or obese.
- The average obesity rate in rural areas of Canada is over 31%.
- Obesity cost the healthcare system in Canada over $9 billion in 2021.
- Obese people are more likely to have other health issues such as diabetes and high blood pressure.
- An adult Canadian’s diet includes 22% of fatty, sugary, and salty foods.
- Only around 15% of Canadians meet the national guidelines of being physically active.
What is Obesity?
Obesity is a chronic disease similar to high blood pressure or diabetes. It is characterised by excessive or abnormal accumulation of fat, which may lead to several health issues. In obese people, accumulated excess body fat has a negative effect on not just their physical, but also mental and metabolic health.
While people are often quick to assume that obese people are lazy overeaters, scientific studies have shown there are several factors behind obesity.WScientists now understand that genetics play a key part in weight gain and is likely to be at least equally, if not more important than what we eat or how much we exercise.
How is Obesity Measured?
There are a few different ways of measuring obesity. One of them uses the Body Mass Index (BMI), which is used to survey population health. However, it should not be used to diagnose obesity clinically.
Another way to determine obesity is to measure the circumference of a person’s waist to determine if they are at risk of health problems related to obesity. In Caucasians, over 94 cm for men and 80 cm for women suggest a higher risk of health issues related to obesity.
A new method called the Edmonton Obesity Staging System, uses the medical, functional, and mental impact of obesity to calculate the possibility of health risks related to obesity. It is considered a more accurate predictor of health issues and mortality from obesity than BMI or waist circumference.
Weight Gain and Genetics
Scientists have discovered that 70-80% of our BMI is predetermined by our genes. People with a genetic disposition towards obesity are 15 times more likely to become overweight or obese than people without the genes.
In addition, our bodies are programmed to protect us from weight loss. This dates back to times when food was more scarce and many struggled to get enough to eat. Scientists believe it is for this reason people find it hard to keep off the weight they have lost and 80% of those who have lost 5% of their body weight, end up putting it back on within five years.
However, the good news is that we can still work to maintain a healthy weight regardless of what our genetic background is. Since 20-30% of our weight is determined based on environmental factors, we can control our weight by watching our food intake and ensuring we get enough exercise.
Obesity in Canada
In the last thirty years, the number of obese people in Canada has been on the rise. In 2014, the Canadian Community Health Survey found that there were more than five million obese adults in Canada, while a year later, the Canadian Health Measures Survey found that more than one in three Canadian adults were obese.
Based on BMI alone, there were 8.3 million obese Canadians in 2016, while 34% or 10.6 million people were overweight. The number of people whose BMI puts them in the category of severely obese has grown the fastest. Compared to 1985, there are now 455% more severely obese Canadians, with approximately 1.9 million Canadians being severely obese.
According to the Government of Canada, 26.6% of adults in Canada are currently obese. The rate is higher among Canadian men at 28% compared to 24.7% for women. There are also differences across the country and socio-economic backgrounds
Childhood Obesity in Canada
It is not just the number of obese adults that has increased in Canada, the number of obese children is growing at an alarming rate. Approximately a third of Canadian children and young people up to 17 years of age are overweight or obese. In 1979, the number of overweight or obese children was approximately a quarter,
Canadian boys are more likely than girls to be obese and the difference is the highest between 12-17 year olds. 16.2% of boys in this age are obese compared to 9.3% of girls.
Urban Canadians Are Less Likely to be Obese
In Canada, people living in urban areas have a lower likelihood of being obese than those living in rural areas. In rural areas, approximately 31.4% of the population is obese, while in urban areas, 25.6% are obese. Therefore, rural areas have around 5.8 more cases per one hundred adults living with obesity.
However, there are differences in rural and urban obesities across Canada. Newfoundland and Labrador has the highest rural obesity rate at 43.6% while the urban rate is 38.1%. British Columbia has the lowest rates in both population groups with 21.7% in urban and 25.3% in rural areas. In the Northwest Territories, there is hardly any difference with the obesity rates being 41.3% and 41.2% for urban and rural respectively.
The obesity rates tend to be lower in large cities with some of the lowest rates found in Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal. In some smaller cities, the obesity rate is over 40%, or around 1.5 times higher than the Canadian average. These cities include Wood Buffalo, Woodstock, Cape Breton, Yellowknife, and the City of Iqaluit. The highest rate is in Miramichi where 44% of the adult population are obese.
Socio-Economic Status Impacts Obesity Rates
In Canada, obesity among adults is more common in disadvantaged groups. The rate is 29.3% among unemployed Canadians compared to 26.4% among those in either full- or part-time employment.
Education levels also impact the rates with those who have less than high school being more likely to be obese than those with at least high school education at 33% compared to 26.2%. The rate decreased further to 25.5% among people with a post-secondary education. People on the lowest incomes have an obesity rate of 27.8% compared to 24.5% among the highest-income earners.
Cost of Obesity in Canada
In 2018, obesity cost the healthcare system in Canada between $5-7 billion and the costs were expected to reach $9 billion in 2021. These are costs that are directly linked to obesity such as visits to the doctor, hospitalisations, and medicines. It does not include the additional costs incurred from loss of productivity or reduced tax revenues.
Health Issues Linked to Obesity
Obesity doesn’t just affect a person’s overall health and well-being it can also lead to other health problems. It is a leading cause of type 2 diabetes, arthritis, heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, and cancer. Obesity is estimated to be behind approximately 10% of premature deaths among adults aged 20-64 in Canada.
Diabetes is higher among obese Canadians at 13.4% compared to 2.9% among people within the normal weight range. The rate of high blood pressure among obese Canadians is 29.5% compared to 9.5% for people at normal weight and
Obesity will also affect a person’s mental health. Obesity can lead to depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and negative self-talk. In some people, it can lead to eating disorders in an attempt to control their weight.
Obesity-Related Deaths in Canada
While smoking is still the major cause of premature, preventable deaths, it is predicted that obesity will overtake it in years to come. Around 12% of deaths in Canada were obesity-related in 2017. Diabetes, which is higher among people with obesity, was the seventh main cause of death in 2017 with 2.5% of all deaths.
What is Behind the Increased Rate of Obesity?
While genetics plays a big part in how prone we are to put on weight, what we eat and how much we exercise is also important. Considering that 22% of adult diets and 25% of 14-18 year olds’ diets consist of ”other foods” it is easy to see why Canadians are getting heavier. Foods in this category are high in sugar, fat, and salt, such as fast food, condiments, and sugary beverages.
At the same time, the majority of Canadians are not eating the recommended amount of fruit and vegetables. When people consume less fruit and vegetables and more other fruits, they are more likely to be obese regardless of their genetics, or socio-economic background.
The other driver behind rising obesity in Canada is decreased activity levels. Many jobs require very little physical activity, most people get to work either by car or using public transport. Even at home, many tasks are becoming easier with inventions such as robot hoovers and lawnmowers. Just over half, 52.5% of Canadian adults say they are physically active. However, only around 15% meet the national guidelines for being active.
The situation is worse among the young people in Canada, with only 7% of them attaining moderate levels of physical activity. Rather than spending time being active, Canadian youth are more likely to spend time on sedentary activities such as playing video games or watching TV. On average, young people in Canada spend over six hours on a weekday on sedentary activities that involve watching a screen of some description.
Global Picture of Obesity
Globally, the economic cost of obesity was around $2.7 trillion in 2014, which was about 2.8% of the global GDP. The rate of obesity has almost tripled globally since 1975 and in 2016, there were over 1.9 billion adults who were overweight and 650 adults who were obese according to the World Health Organization (WHO). This means that 39% of adults were overweight and 13% obese. Obesity is now a bigger cause of preventable mortality than underweight.
Obesity in children is growing across the globe just like it is in Canada. In 2020, 39 million children younger than five were either overweight or obese. Global data also shows that in 2016, 340 million children and young people aged 5-19, were overweight or obese.
Obesity is a growing problem in Canada and across the globe. It costs the Canadian healthcare system more every year and is fast becoming the leading cause of preventable deaths among Canadians.
The main drivers behind the rising obesity rates in Canada are changes in lifestyle with jobs and commutes becoming more sedentary and increased consumption of fatty and sugary foods. The obesity rates are expected to continue growing in Canada unless comprehensive strategies are put in place.
Frequently Asked Questions
According to the Canadian Government, 26.6% of Canadians are obese, which is more than 8 million people.
Canadians are becoming heavier because their diets include more sugary and fatty foods and their lives are more sedentary.
About a third of Canadians under 17 years of age are obese and this number has tripled in the last thirty years.