The World Health Organization (WHO) defines overweight and obesity as abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that presents a risk to health. A body mass index (BMI) over 25 is considered overweight, while a BMI greater than 30 indicates that an individual has obesity.
In 2018, 26.8% of Canadians 18 and older (roughly 7.3 million adults) reported height and weight that classified them as having obesity. That number has grown in subsequent years and is now at 28.2% as of 2020, with another 35.6% classifying as overweight. According to the Canadian Task Force on Preventative Health Care (CTFPHC), over two thirds of Canadian men (67%) and more than half of Canadian women (54%) are living with overweight or obesity.
That means 63.8% of all Canadian adults are living with increased health risks due to excess weight!
Canada also has the 30th highest rate of obesity of any country in the world, and the fourth-highest rate among “Western” nations behind the United States, New Zealand and Australia.
Rates of diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, certain cancers, gallstones, sleep apnea, as well as psychological and psychiatric issues, that are associated with obesity – are on the rise in Canada.
More than three quarters (75.6%) of Canadians with diabetes are classified as overweight or living with obesity whereas half of Canadians who do not have diabetes are classified as overweight or living with obesity.
While the death rate for diabetes has fallen in recent years, it still accounts for about 19 deaths per 100,000 in Canada and is a contributing factor in the death of more than 41,500 Canadians each year.
Heart disease is also closely linked to obesity and is one of the leading causes of death in Canada and the leading cause worldwide.
One U.K. study found that even people living with obesity who don’t have other metabolic risk factors are still 28% more likely to develop heart disease than someone with a “normal” weight.
The death rates associated with heart disease paint a bleak picture as well. According to 2017–2018 data from the Public Health Agency of Canada:
- Every hour, about 14 Canadian adults age 20 and over with diagnosed heart disease die
- The death rate is 2.9 times higher among adults aged 20 and over with diagnosed heart disease versus those without.
- The death rate is 4.6 times higher among adults aged 20 and over who have had a heart attack versus those who have not.
- The death rate is 6.3 times higher among adults aged 40 and over with diagnosed heart failure versus those without.
Adding to the challenge, individuals affected are often denied access to medical treatment as most insurance companies, employers and the Canadians government do not recognize obesity as a disease at all.
Obesity Matters’s mission is to elevate and empower Canadians affected by obesity through Education, Community and Advocacy. This involves working with stakeholders and our community to view obesity as a disease, and influence payers, allowing for increased access to safe and effective medical treatment.
- When the Public Health Agency of Canada included obesity as a risk for more severe COVID-19 disease or outcomes, it was a step in the right direction for obesity advocacy movements.
This acknowledgment was an important step for the government to take action for obesity as it does with other diseases.
Now, we need to push policymakers to collaborate with federal and provincial agencies, industry, individuals affected by obesity, and communities to help reduce obesity rates and help everyone live healthier lives. This starts with officially recognizing obesity as a chronic disease instead of a lifestyle choice, and subsidizing health care products that people living with obesity deserve. Obesity Matters has been pushing for these positive outcomes.
- Unfair hiring practices, lower wages compared to thinner employees (women affected by obesity earn on average 6% less than thinner women), harsher discipline from employers and negative stereotypes about work ethic and ambition are all common examples of ways people living with obesity face unfair treatment in the workplace.
This is compounded by the fact that obesity can increase healthcare costs, absenteeism and workers compensation among employees.
Employers everywhere need to provide a comprehensive prevention and treatment benefit plan for their employees. This would include nutrition, physical activity and access to evidence-based medical care.
Employers also need to make employees aware of the dangers of weight stigma by educating people about obesity the disease. Employers must discuss how people are affected by obesity and what it means for people who live with it from a medical standpoint instead of trying things like weight-loss challenges that only reinforce negative stereotypes.
- Obesity should be recognized as a chronic disease and individuals living in larger bodies should have access to a comprehensive treatment approach for the prevention and management of obesity as they would for type 2 diabetes, hypertension and sleep apnea.
There has been some progress, however, as some insurance companies such as Desjardins now include obesity medication as part of their standard coverage. Desjardins wrote “We believe that taking a holistic approach to weight loss will result in improved health and reduced use of drugs to treat chronic disease in the long term.”
Progressive thinking like that of Desjardins insurance is why it is so important to champion the development and delivery of safe and effective treatments and health care resources in Canada.
When we advocate together, we can make meaningful change in the lives of people living with obesity and overweight. Join us to help make that a reality.