TORONTO — One in four Canadian adults is clinically obese, compared with one in three in the United States, suggests a new study that experts describe as a grim depiction of the state of public health on both sides of the border.
The study — a collaboration between Statistics Canada and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, conducted between 2007 and 2009 — concluded that 24 per cent of Canadians were obese, compared with nearly 34 per cent of Americans.
It’s believed to be the first time researchers have compared obesity rates in both Canada and the U.S.
The findings echo those of a global study released last September by the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development, which said one-quarter of Canadians could be classified as obese; two-thirds of Canadian men were overweight.
The fact that Canada fared better than the U.S. doesn’t mean Canadians are off the hook, said Cynthia Ogden, co-author of the most recent study and an epidemiologist with the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics.
“Although the U.S. is leading the way, many other countries, including Canada, are experiencing rises in obesity levels,” Ogden said.
“In both countries, there’s work to be done.”
Obesity rates have been climbing steadily on both sides of the border since the late 1980s, although the pace of the increase hasn’t been thoroughly documented in Canada, she said.
Obesity rates in the U.S. have been consistently higher than those in Canada during that period, but some of the study’s findings suggest Canadians are following in the footsteps of their southern neighbours.
Ogden said 24 per cent of Canadian women were considered obese, the same figure registered for their American counterparts 20 years ago. The latest data shows the obesity rate for women in the U.S. climbed to 36 per cent over that time.
Among Canadian men, 24.3 per cent met the definition of obesity, compared with 32.6 per cent of those in the U.S.
Ogden said the gap between the two countries can’t be readily explained.
“I really think it’s interesting to look at why it’s so much higher in the United States,” she said. “We share a border.
“What’s going on?”
Governments and researchers would be better off trying to reduce obesity rates than evaluating the minor differences between them, said Bill Jeffery, national co-ordinator at the Centre for Science in the Public Interest.
“Instead of quibbling over minor differences, we need to recognize that now, about two-thirds of people in both countries are overweight or obese,” Jeffery said. Like our American counterparts, we need public policies to help prevent overweight and reverse the conversion of overweight to obese.“
Since the late 1980s, the prevalence of obesity in Canada has increased by about 10 percentage points for men and eight for women, the study found; in the U.S. it climbed by 10 percentage points for men and 12 percentage points for women, respectively.
Among men in both countries, the increase was highest among those aged 60 to 74, while in women, obesity increased the most among those aged 20 to 39.