Weight-Loss, Obesity and how it Affects Chronic Disease

February 25th 2011: Every January, weight loss becomes a hot topic: it’s covered on the nightly news, gyms step up their advertising campaigns and it seems that we see more promotional spots for weight loss shows like “The Biggest Loser” and CBC’s “Village on a Diet”. Neighbours and family members dedicate themselves to diet and exercise regimens with reinvigorated fervour and are convinced that this year will be the one that they beat the scale for good.

Unfortunately, come end of February, many well-intentioned people have fallen off the wagon and into the doldrums. There are many reasons why people fail or get discouraged, not least of which is that they may not be seeing the big picture: vanity is not the real reason we should exercise an eat properly, the real reasons are to increase our quality of life, longevity and improve our health.

Obesity kills more Canadians (more than 8,000) every year than motor vehicle accidents, suicide, homicide and HIV infection combined. That’s not nearly as many as tobacco-related illnesses (47,000), but it’s very significant. Obesity also greatly increases levels of disability and lowers quality of life and morbidity.

A 2007 study by the Public Health Agency of Canada found that “overall, in 2004, 45% of hypertension, 39% of type II diabetes, 35% of gallbladder disease, 23% of coronary artery diseases (CAD), 19% of osteoarthritis, 11% of stroke, 22% of endometrial cancer, 12% of postmenopausal breast cancer, and 10% of colon cancer could be attributed to obesity… If current obesity prevalence trends remain unchanged, the prevalence proportion of obesity in Canada is projected to reach 27% in men and 24% in women by the year 2010. These increases will have a profound impact on the treatment needs and prevalence of a wide variety of chronic diseases, and also on the health care system in terms of capacity issues and resource allocation.”

The problem is so widespread that even children are affected, beginning to show significant signs of illnesses traditionally associated with aging, such as heart disease, strokes and diabetes. In the United States, First Lady Michelle Obama has personally taken on the cause of childhood obesity as a major public health risk.

In Canada, our obesity rates are significantly lower than those in the U.S. (23.1% vs 30.6%), but they are creeping up quickly, and we too have cause to be alarmed. We do very poorly in comparison with other member countries of the OECD, with Germany at 12.9% and the UK at 12% being very distant seconds. The same 2007 study found that in 1978/79, 13.8% of the Canadian population over the age of 18 was obese. This had risen to nearly one-quarter (23.1%) by 2004, when 5.5 million Canadians were obese and another 5.5 million, of 36.1% of the population, was overweight.

The study found that men and women were equally likely to be obese overall, but among those aged 75 and older, women were significantly more likely than men to be obese (26.5% to 19.3%). Obesity rates were lowest among young people 18-24 and highest among those aged 45 to 64. Where you live also has an impact on obesity rates, which are relatively high among residents of Newfoundland (34%), Saskatchewan and New Brunswick, and significantly lower in British Columbia.