Obesity rates have tripled in Canada in less than 3 decades

Obesity rates in Canada have tripled since 1985, a new study says. Trae Patton/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

TORONTO – Obesity rates have tripled between 1985 and now, and almost two in 10 Canadians are now obese, a new study is warning.

By 2019, Canadian researchers say that 21 per cent of us will be obese, with a spike in the “very obese” category. In 1985, obesity rates sat at six per cent. By 2011, they were at 18 per cent.

These are startling findings even to the Memorial University study authors in St. John’s.

“If I was a doctor, I would be very concerned,” Laurie Twells, an associate professor in pharmacy and medicine at Memorial, told Global News.

“(People who are obese) place a significant burden on the healthcare system. Clinicians will need to be resourced to manage and treat this population effectively,” Twells said.

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Twells has been studying obesity for the past decade. She called the 15 per cent climb from 1985 to what’s slated for 2019 “very dramatic.”

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Over the last 10 years, every Canadian province reported an increase in obesity – it was lowest in the West, in Alberta and B.C. but higher in Eastern provinces with Newfoundland and Labrador and New Brunswick having the highest rates.

Twells looked at national and provincial data from a number of Canadian health surveys to put together historical, present and future trends. She also examined whether policy initiatives to reduce obesity have been successful.

Her findings suggest that by 2019, 21 per cent of Canadians will be obese. In British Columbia, rates would be lowest at 15.7 per cent and Newfoundland would have the highest numbers at 34.6 per cent.

“By this time, it is projected that there will be more overweight and/or obese adults than normal weight adults living in Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Saskatchewan and Manitoba,” Twells told Global News.

She didn’t look into why there are disparities from coast to coast but previous research suggests that there could be different factors at play: Eastern Canada tends to have older Canadians, there could be a disparity in urban to rural living, lifestyle, culture, education and income.

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Twells said her next steps are to look at the factors contributing to these differences.

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What was more alarming was just how obese our population is getting.

Normal weight is classified as a BMI of 18.5-24.9
Overweight has a BMI of 25-29.9
Obesity class I is BMI 30.0-34.9
Obesity class II is BMI 35-39.9
Obesity class III is BMI 40 or over

Between 1985 and 2011, obesity class I rates increased by 157 per cent, obese class II rates jumped by 350 per cent and obese class III rates spiked by 433 per cent.

New Brunswick had the highest numbers of class I and III obesity rates.

According to OECD data, the U.S. and Mexico have the highest rates of adult obesity in the Western world at 30 and 35 per cent. They’re following by New Zealand, Australia, Britain and Canada.

READ MORE: What one woman in Gabon taught doctors about global obesity

Twells’ full findings were published Monday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.


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