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Canada’s has an obesity epidemic on its hands!

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If you believe the headlines, Canada is in the middle of a serious epidemic. One of such enormous proportions that 1 in 4 Canadians is already affected – and the number is rising!

*yawn*

Yeah, that’s right, I’m tired of hearing about our so-called “obesity epidemic.” From public service announcements, to newspaper headlines to CBC’s latest “Live Right Now” series … please! Sure, we might be a little heavier than the generation before us, but is it really an epidemic – a word associated with the rampant spread of disease?

If 1 in 4 Canadians is now obese – and weren’t just a generation ago – wouldn’t that mean that 1 in 4 of us could no longer sit in an airplane seat? That all of our cars would need to be built with larger seats? That king-sized mattresses would make queen-sized mattresses obsolete? Or worse, that 1 in 4 of us is suffering from illnesses linked to obesity?

I would think that if one out of every four people in my community was obese, I’d see a whole lot of very large people waddling about my neighborhood. But I don’t. I just see the same old mix of people I’ve always seen.  

And the same thing goes for children. We hear so much about how this “obesity epidemic” is impacting our children the hardest. But where are all these poor children because when I look at the class photos of the children I know, I see maybe one or two slightly larger children in each class. But this has existed since the beginning of time – there’s always a few bigger kids, a few smaller kids and a bunch in the middle. Wasn’t it like that when you were a kid too?

So what does “obese” really mean anyhow? I’ll tell you what it means. It means anyone who scores a BMI of higher than 30. Which is me. Yep, by the BMI, I am obese.

But I would never refer to myself as obese. Sure I’m no bikini model, but by medical standards, I am perfectly healthy: blood pressure, glucose levels, cholesterol … you name it.

Don’t get me wrong – I think it’s important to try to restrict processed foods, eat junk only on Halloween, and do some physical activity every day. I just don’t think it’s worthy of headline space and the term “epidemic.”

Do you agree that this issue has been blown out of proportion or am I sorely deluded? Tell me!

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Comments

  1. It’s an interesting topic. I feel the same way but do work in health research and many of my physician colleagues feel that obesity is such a “naughty” word and that they shy away from talking about weight with patients when they probably should. They don’t want to hurt people’s feelings.
    As an epidemiologist I don’t like to call it an epidemic. I think that word is often used to create panic and I’m just not sure that that is the way to help people.

  2. agreed!

  3. I’m with you on that one, Julie. My sister just received a slap in the face when her doctor wrote on her requisition that she was “Obese.” And I guess if she’s obese the rest of us are too. I think they need to come up with new terminology because what the rest of us “regular” people call obese is totally different than their idea of it. And so far as the BMI goes, my nephew is way off the charts but he’s barely got an ounce of fat on him.

  4. I, too, have many questions about this research and its conclusions. But I do believe that fitness issues are still important.

    The biggest flaw in this research is that is all based on BMI — a horribly outdated and useless measurement that considers only height and waist measurements, and does not account for factors like bone density or lean body mass. One alternate measurement is the waist-to-hip ratio, but it has problems as well. The best indicators of obesity are based on bodyfat measurements, which are much harder to get and not cannot be calculated using the data collected by census forms — you need skinfold measurements or submersion testing to get accurate values.

    Regarding your observations of those around you: Statistics Canada notes that there are wide variations in general obesity numbers in different areas of the country. As someone who grew up out west and still often visits there, I can say that I’m not surprised that StatsCan says Edmonton, Winnipeg, and Saskatoon have highly unfit populations. I’m also not surprised to hear that Vancouverites are the thinnest of all of us. In line with YOUR observations, you may be interested to know that Ottawa and Toronto are the leanest cities in Ontario (19.7% obese and 15.6% obese, respectively — some of the lowest numbers in the country). StatsCan’s 2008 report on regional differences (which — like all of these beasts — is STILL based on BMI) is here: http://www.statcan.ca/english/studies/82-003/archive/2006/17-3-c.pdf

    • From what I can tell, all the recent headlines are basing the “1 in 4” figure on the same Stats Can report (http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/82-620-m/82-620-m2005001-eng.htm) – and yes, like you noted, on BMI. I don’t understand why BMI is being used for important national research since I too have read that it’s flawed.

      As for regional differences – you bring up a point that came to me after I wrote this rant, er, post. I realized that where I live (Ontario) and my specific neighbourhood can’t be seen as representative of the Canadian population especially since the correlation between obesity and poverty is so strong.

  5. Obesity is big business. I worked in this field for several years,and if there is one thing i learned, it’s that people will shell out any amount of money to lose weight. so long as people are making money out of this “epidemic”, the statistics will support it.

    But I agree with your observations. Let’s take random school class photos from the past 40 years and compare them.I’m sure the kids look pretty much the same, even if they are probably less active and eating more junk food.

  6. Julie – I do wholeheartedly agree with you that this issue has been blown about of proportion in the media for a number of reasons. It’s a sexy, easy story to report since fat is seen as a villain by society. As a previous commenter suggested, weight loss is big business and there are countless businesses and experts to consult and probably no end to the media releases crossing reporters’ desks.

    Now for a little tough love – sorry, you asked…

    Over-reporting or not, no matter what you call it, overweight, obese, etc., there is no doubt a link between excess fat/weight and many chronic diseases.

    As you highlighted, obesity (at it is currently defined) is a BMI over 30, so that would mean that we would still fit in airplane seats. Also, as far as obesity-related diseases go, if 1 in 4 Canadians are obese, it doesn’t mean that 1 in 4 would have one of these diseases today. It means that 1 in 4 have a greater risk of having one of these diseases over their lifetime.

    Since we can all agree that BMI is a poor measurement tool, I wouldn’t put too much stock in your BMI being over 30. Why not have your body fat measured and go from there? There’s no doubt you can be super-healthy at your current size (you are adorable and you look fantastic!). But, if your body fat percentage does show that you are in a higher risk group, the level of risk that you want to accept is up to you.

    Does that make sense? I hope that’s not harsh. It’s not meant to be. Just telling it like I see it.

    • Not harsh at all! (And I do love getting all sorts of sides of an issue more than anything … So please, never hesitate!)

      But I still don’t believe that someone with excess fat (not morbidly obese, just a bit of extra weight) is at higher risk for any chronic diseases. I can look back through black and white photos of the women in my family and see that by middle-age, they (like me) all carry some extra weight. And there is no history of any chronic disease hitting any of them. Being a size 12-14 was simply considered normal. Not like these days, where being a size 0 is considered ideal!

  7. I had to come by and chat. And I hope you don’t mind my dissent on this issue, but I have to agree with Liisa, it’s not just about how Canadians are affected today, but about how poor eating and physical activity habits affect us in the long term. And children (and adults) ARE being affected in the long term. For example, the rates of Type 2 diabetes among children are on the rise. This is a disease that, until recently, was reserved only for old people.

    I think the issue is more about people’s aversion to strong words like obese and epidemic. Obviously they raise people hackles. Perhaps a softer term like overweight would be more appropriate. Also, even if a person doesn’t look overweight, that doesn’t mean they are getting anywhere near enough physical activity to be healthy. I’m a prime example. I never exercise. This is affecting my health in the short term (depression, anxiety, perhaps other things), and I do need to do more. I freely admit this. I also want to set a good example for my children so that they chooose to live active lifestyles.

    The other thing I think it’s important to note is that the problem seems to surface less in affluent families who are well-educated and have access to healthy foods and paid sports programs, and more among at-risk populations who can only afford less healthy food choices and have fewer options for programmed physical activity.

  8. Thanks for dropping in to share your thoughts too … and as you may have suspected, the post was a rant but not a call to dismiss healthy eating and exercise.

    I too strongly believe that these are thing parents need to role-model and teach their children — or they are not doing their job. I guess I’m just tired of the whole topic. It just seems like there is no actual “news” — we already know that you’re not helping your children by feeding them pop every day and letting them play video games for 4 hours a day. Humans need whole foods and lots of outdoor time.

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