Healthier Lifestyle is Paying Dividends

While the sturdy “baba” genes I’ve inherited from my Ukrainian grandmother may mean I’m never going to be svelte, my workout regime and focus on making healthier food choices just might be paying off.

I’ve recently done a fair bit of work-related travel — Whitehorse, London, and Winnipeg alone within the past two weeks. Despite the reality of hauling hefty luggage, sleeping in uncomfortable beds, and hoofing my way through airports and parking lots, I realized I was holding up pretty well.

Nowhere near as tired as I might have been in the past, my healthier lifestyle is making a difference.  I have more energy for day to day tasks, always sleep soundly, and generally am simply feeling stronger and healthier. At the very least, I’m doing my best not to be part of the alarming and climbing levels of obesity rates across Canada that are costing us somewhere between $4.6 billion and $7.1 billion a year.

According to a recent study from the School of Population and Public Health at the University of British Columbia, more Canadians are obese than ever — on average between one fourth and one third of Canadians have the body mass index of 30 or greater that puts them in the obese category.

The study, the first comprehensive look at adult obesity rates across Canada since 1998, came complete with maps showing that the Atlantic Provinces, Nunavut, and the Northwest Territories had the highest obesity rates from 2000 to 2011 – more than 30 per cent of the population in these regions is estimated to be obese.

British Columbia had the lowest overall rates, followed by Quebec and the Yukon (20 – 24% range) but obesity is still on the rise. Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Ontario fall in the 25 – 29% range.

Why some Canadians are less likely to be obese than others is not known, but there are theories.

It appears that people in British Columbia and the Yukon are more likely to be physically active than people in the rest of the country regardless of age, according to Statistics Canada. The lowest activity occurred in Nunavut, Northwest Territories, Newfoundland, and Prince Edward Island.

Why worry about obesity? After all, my Baba never did.

Being obese can lead to cardiovascular disease, diabetes and certain cancers, including breast, prostate, colorectal and pancreatic tumours.

And, even if you want to take your chances, think about those escalating health care costs.

So what can we do about it?

Addressing the obesity epidemic requires multiple interventions at multiple levels. No single intervention will be successful at reducing obesity.

School based interventions to support healthier eating and physical activity will be foundational. Examples might include providing healthier snacks and meals, banning less healthy food and beverage choices, and ensuring quality daily physical activity.

Working with industry to reduce the fat, salt, and sugar content of foods will be essential, as will strategies to reduce advertising aimed at children. Subsidies on healthy food and beverage choices and taxes on less healthy food and beverage choices may also need to be considered.

The same mass media and social marketing strategies that motivated me to get fit and eat right will be important, as will simplifying the methods used to label healthy and less healthy food and beverage choices in stores and restaurants.

The importance of the built environment is key, including making walking a safe and convenient choice, and having close proximity to grocery stores that provide a balanced selection of food and beverage.

We may also need to examine the role of physicians and health care professionals in promoting healthier eating and healthy weights as well of early recognition of obesity.  Some doctors are now even prescribing exercise as a viable option for their patients.

Since this ultimately is about change, the social and cultural environment will be crucial as will the promotion of leisure literacy and a holistic and balanced lifestyle from an early age.

In the end, it comes down to all of us having a collective responsibility to work together to ensure the “healthy choice is the easy choice” for everyone.

Posted on 03-03-13

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