Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Obesity on the rise in Canada, but Richmond has lowest rate in country

By Sean Sullivan, The Province

An abundance of fresh air, recreation facilities and level terrain may be some of the reasons why Richmond has the lowest obesity rate in Canada, residents say.

According to a joint report issued Monday from the Canadian Institute for Health Information and the Public Health Agency of Canada, one in four adults are now obese.

In Richmond, however, just five per cent of adults — one in 20 — are obese.

While the report doesn’t say why the community beats even fitness-crazy Vancouver, which stands at 6.2 per cent, jogger Shable Cheng-Yuan Hszgh said it’s all about the fresh air.

“We like to exercise: walking, jogging, or any exercise,” he said near the entrance to the city’s West Dike Trail.

Gesturing to the tall grass and cattails swaying alongside the Fraser River, he added, “It feels very isolated here. It’s easy to get outside.”

According to estimates by researchers, the equivalent of 405,000 cases of male obesity, and 646,000 cases of obesity in women could potentially be “altered or averted” if inactive Canadians did at least 15 minutes of low-impact activity a day, such as walking.And in Richmond, where the land is remarkably flat, walking is easy.

“You always see a lot of people out here,” Maureen Wielens said. “It’s flat, which makes it easier to bike across the dike.

“I wouldn’t be getting on a bike if I had to go up a hill,” she laughed.

The low rate of obesity in Richmond and neighbouring Vancouver stand in stark contrast to other regions of Canada, where rates shoot as high as 32 per cent in Kings County, P.E.I., and nearly 36 per cent in the northern Mamawetan/Keewatin/Athabasca region of Saskatchewan.

Between 1981 and 2009, obesity — based on actual measures of height and weight, and not people self-reporting their weight — roughly doubled across all age groups, and tripled for youth aged 12 to 17.

When figures for obesity are combined with those for being overweight, 62 per cent of Canadians overall weigh more than they should.

In addition to an increase in exercise, researchers if people improved “poor quality” diets by eating more fruits and vegetables, potentially 265,000 fewer men, and 97,000 fewer women would be obese.The report was quickly attacked by obesity experts as simplistic and misleading, arguing it risks leading to more discrimination against the overweight.

“The notion that 15 minutes of extra activity and eating more fruits and vegetables will have any noticeable impact on this epidemic is both simplistic and misleading,” said Dr. Arya Sharma, professor of medicine and chair in obesity research and management at the University of Alberta in Edmonton.

Many underlying drivers contribute to obesity, he said — including mental-health issues and the fact people are sleeping less and working longer hours. Researchers are exploring whether obesity starts in the womb.

“All of this is completely ignored when you bring it down to diet and exercise,” Sharma said.

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