Are Canadians too fat?

Think we’re thinner than our American counterparts? Think again. Find out why Canada is suffering from a weight epidemic

Are Canadians too fat?

Source: Web exclusive, November 2009

Canadians are too fat

According to the Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation, almost 60 percent of Canadian adults are overweight or obese. That percentage has grown rapidly in the past three decades’40 percent of the population was overweight or obese in the early 1970s.

Canada is one of the fattest countries in the world, says Richard Béliveau, chair for cancer prevention and treatment at the University of Quebec in Montreal and author of Eating Well, Living Well (McClelland & Stewart). ‘All of the industrialized countries are in the major leagues [in terms of overweight and obesity].’

Why it’s a problem

‘Obesity is a common denominator to all chronic diseases,’ says Béliveau. Studies show that overweight and obesity are linked to type-2 diabetes, cardiovascular problems and cancers such as breast, colon and prostate.

‘What’s killing us today is not the flu or mad cow disease, it’s chronic diseases.’ In fact, cancer, heart disease and stroke accounted for 58 percent of all deaths in Canada in 2005.

Obesity costs the Canadian economy as well. According to Statistics Canada, obesity was estimated to cost the economy more than $4 billion in 2005.

We are not alone

Canadians aren’t the only people dealing with the cost of expanding waistlines.

‘The World Health Organization is talking about ‘globesity,’ or global obesity, a [term] that was developed to indicate that the obesity epidemic is spreading worldwide,‘ says Béliveau. In fact, countries that have never had an obesity problem before are suffering from the epidemic. As an example of this growing trend, Béliveau points to Mexico, where the obesity rate has increased by 600 percent in little more than a decade.

Why we’re getting fatter

It started in the 1980s when the population became more sedentary, says Béliveau. ‘People stopped moving and increased their intake of calorie-dense food.’

Indeed, we are spoiled for choice when it comes to high-calorie food. In his book, Béliveau writes that 300,000 food products are available to the U.S. consumer and 10,000 more are added each year. Add to that the importance of sugar and salt in these commercially produced foods and the fact that we spend an increasing amount of time sitting in front of screens and you’ve got the recipe for an overweight world.

What we can do about it

According to Dr. Béliveau, an estimated 90 percent of type-2 diabetes, 82 percent of cardiovascular disease and 70 percent of cancer cases can be prevented if people adapt a healthier lifestyle. But that doesn’t mean shifting from one extreme to another with your diet and exercise. ‘Forget about all the diets and the stupidity written about sugar, fat and protein,’ says Béliveau. ‘If you gain weight it’s because you’re eating too many calories compared to what you’re burning.’ In his book, he writes that a 10 percent difference between calories eaten and calories burned can lead to 14 kg of weight gain in just one year.

Here are Dr. Béliveau’s five golden rules of chronic disease prevention:

1. Don’t smoke.
2. Maintain a normal weight with a BMI between 19 and 24.
3. Eat lots of plant products such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
4. Exercise for at least 30 minutes a day.

5. Reduce your intake of sugary and fatty foods, especially fast food.

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