We’re Fat. And Lazy.

chubby.jpgCanadians are risking major health issues, a new study shows

The first study of fitness in Canada since 1981 shows Canadians can’t point any fingers at our large neighbors. Just as numerous studies show Americans suffer from mass obesity, Canadians are also substantially fatter and less fit over the last two decades.

According to StatsCan’s The Canadian Health Measures Survey, the most comprehensive national survey ever conducted in Canada to determine fitness levels, nearly two-thirds of adults are overweight obese, as are 25% of children.  

Many experts are suggesting this is a national crisis.

Ian Janssen, assistant professor with the Centre for Obesity Research and Education at Queen’s University says, “The information on the rates of abdominal obesity, particularly in older adults, is absolutely astonishing.”

The CHMS captured key information relevant to the health of Canadians by means of direct physical measurements, such as body measurements, cardio-respiratory fitness, musculoskeletal fitness and blood pressure.

In Canada, for the past two decades, assessments of fitness levels of Canadians have relied almost exclusively on the body mass index (BMI) because it can easily be calculated from height and weight. The BMI has shown that Canadian adults have become heavier over the past 25 years.

However, the BMI is only one indicator. A variety of other measures, therefore, are required to gain a more complete understanding of fitness levels associated with current and future risk of disease. These complementary measures were studied by the CHMS, in which survey respondents underwent body composition measurements and participated in fitness tests in mobile examination centres.

Among adults, decreases in fitness levels over the same period were particularly pronounced for young adults aged 20 to 39.

Within this group, the percentage with a waist circumference that placed them at a high risk for health problems more than quadrupled. The proportions went from 5% to 21% among men, and from 6% to 31% among women.

Roughly 3% of the adult population had high blood pressure that was undiagnosed in 2009.

During the 2007-to-2009 period, just under 38% of adults were at a healthy weight. About 1% were underweight, 37% were overweight and 24% were obese.

Proportionally, many more adult men than adult women were overweight. However, roughly equal proportions of both sexes were rated as obese.

On average, the BMI of Canadians was lower than that of Americans, especially in two age groups: 20 to 39 and 40 to 59. Differences were not significant in the age group 60 to 79.

Moving beyond the BMI, abdominal obesity, as reflected by a high waist circumference, is now regarded as the factor that indicates the greatest health risk related to obesity.

On the basis of their waist circumference, 31% of women and 21% of men aged 20 to 39 were considered to be at high risk for health problems. By the age of 60 to 69, the proportions were more than twice as high: 65% of women and 52% of men.

At the age of 40 to 69, the percentage of males and females whose waist circumference placed them at a high risk for health problems more than doubled between 1981 and 2009.

Similarly, the percentage whose body composition was classified as “fair/needs improvement” rose fourfold among young adult men, from 5% to 20%, and sevenfold among young adult women, from 4% to 29%. Body composition includes the BMI, waist circumference and skin-fold measurements.

CHMS data indicate that men have higher systolic blood pressure for all population age groups through middle age, although women measure higher in older age groups. By age 60 to 79, women measure higher systolic blood pressure than men (127 compared with 122). The increase in female systolic blood pressure occurs after menopause and has also been consistently noted in the United States.

The data collected from March 2007 and February 2009 demonstrates that the overall decline in health and fitness applies to all age groups- 5,000 people aged six through 79 across Canada.
The study marks the first release from the Canadian Health Measures Survey.

The survey collected key information relevant to the health of Canadians by means of direct physical measurements such as height, weight, body measurements (waist and hip circumference, skin folds), physical fitness (grip strength, flexibility, muscular endurance and aerobic capacity), blood pressure, lung function and oral health.

The survey used a mobile examination centre, namely a specially designed pair of trailers staffed by fully trained health professionals, to collect physical measures of health.