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Roseann Nasser, a research dietitian with the Regina Qu'Appelle Health Region, says 43 per cent of Canadians do not regularly prepare balanced meals for themselves. A new study is predicting one in five Canadians will be obese by 2019. Photo by Brady Knight.

One in five Canadians will be obese in just five year's time. That is the prediction of a new study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal on Monday. The study also showed 18.3 per cent of Canadians were obese in 2011, more than triple the rate in the mid-eighties.


Dr. Susan Whiting isn't surprised by the numbers. The professor of nutrition and dietetics at the University of Saskatchewan said the simple combination of poor eating habits and low amounts of physical activity are to blame.

The study predicts five provinces – Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Manitoba and Saskatchewan – will have more overweight than normal-weight adults by 2019. Whiting said there are a couple reasons Saskatchewan is on that list.

"I think it's our rural population," she said, noting there have been a number of studies showing higher obesity rates in rural areas. "(It could be) the change in the nature of farming and maybe a reliance on automobiles in rural areas that we might not have seen before."

Whiting adds while many people rely on rapid transit in metropolitan areas, they usually still need to walk some distance.


Roseann Nasser, a research dietitian with the Regina Qu'Appelle Health Region, said Saskatchewan's long, cold winters also play a role.

"If you choose to be physically active during the winter, you can be. There are so many wonderful and great activities – from cross-country skiing to walking your dog outside," she said. "You can go swimming in the winter, you can go to an inside track and walk – it's just getting that motivation."

Nasser adds 43 per cent of Canadians do not regularly prepare balanced meals for themselves or their families, which also contributes to higher obesity rates.

"We're working longer at work, and we're not planning to make meals," she said.

While nobody is disputing the numbers, Whiting believes there are some overlooked factors in the study.

"It doesn't take into account the fact that we're aging," she said. "There is kind of a feeling that older adults can gain more weight and move into that overweight category and it's not as harmful as it is in the younger group."

She adds the study relied on Statistics Canada surveys that used self-reported data, meaning participants were not weighed or measured. Whiting said women tend to under-report their weight, while men usually over-report their height.

"If anything this would be an argument that these results are not as bad as they could be."

Nonetheless, these numbers are expected to place an additional burden on Canada's health care system. As the study notes, obesity can lead to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, hypertension, sleep apnea, cancer and other chronic diseases.

According to Saskatchewan's Patient First Review, published in 2009, the provincial economic impact of chronic diseases will lead to at least $1.9 billion per year in direct healthcare costs and $2.5 billion per year in indirect costs associated with the loss of productivity and income.

"I think (the study is saying) we've been aware of (the problem) for probably 10 years and anything we've done in the last 10 years hasn't helped," said Whiting. "So we have to really rethink it – we have to do a better job of figuring out what we can do."

Nasser said as a society, we have become more sedentary than we used to be, relying evermore on our cars, cell phones and computers.

"We want to be going back, implementing physical activity in schools," she said. "It has to be a whole society and family kind of approach – turn that TV off, turn the computer off – you need to get out there and be active."

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