Canadian Obesity Rates Hit Record Levels

Rural provinces, fishing communities hit hard by economy fared the worst in new report.

Residents of the great white north are increasingly growing great white guts.

Residents of the great white north are increasingly growing great white guts.

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Obesity rates in Canada have hit record levels, with the highest rates of obesity coming in the most rural provinces, according to a report released Wednesday.

Between 2003 and 2011, self-reported adult obesity rates in Canada have increased from 22.3 percent to 25.3 percent, a 13 percent increase, according to a report published in the Canadian Journal of Public Health. The latest data are considered "adjusted" because self-reporting body mass indexes were increased 7 percent, due to people's long-established tendencies to overestimate their height and under-report their weight.

By comparison, the obesity rate in the United States is 35.7 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

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Carolyn Gotay, a researcher at the University of British Columbia and lead author of the report, says that the problem is greatest in Canada's northern territories.

"Some of the remote regions have a difficult time having access to healthy foods. The stuff that makes it across that long distance usually isn't as fresh or healthy as it is in the cities," she says. "The causes are largely seen as the same as in the U.S.—we're seeing the same increase in consumption of sugary beverages and highly processed foods accompanied by less exercise."

Over the past decade, obesity rates in Canada's easternmost provinces, including Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick, have also increased. Gotay says those provinces' economies largely rely on fishing, an industry that was hit hard by the recession over the past few years.

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"They've had some economic challenges, so families there may go for food that's the least expensive, which aren't always the most healthy," she says.

While the obesity epidemic has long been a topic of concern in the United States, Gotay says it has just recently emerged as a problem in Canada.

"People can see it in the world around them," she says. "It's not as high a percentage as what we're seeing in the United States, but there's similar trends happening in both of our countries and we're definitely taking notice."

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