email E-Mail
Print

This Annual Report Card on Canadians Health is archived for historical purposes only. Note that the statistics and information are current as of the original release date.



HEART AND STROKE FOUNDATION WARNS FAT IS THE NEW TOBACCO

According to the Heart and Stroke Foundations Annual Report Card on Canadians Health, the increasing number of overweight and obese Canadians now poses one of the greatest threats ever to public health in this country.

The prevalence of this serious health risk is almost exactly what we faced with tobacco use 30 years ago when half of Canadians smoked, says Dr. Anthony Graham, Heart and Stroke Foundation spokesperson and cardiologist. Since that time, smoking rates have dropped by half - but during those same three decades, weve been losing ground in the area of overweight and obesity.

Heart and Stroke Foundation Report Card on Canadians Health

Overweight and Smoking

Rates among Canadian adults:

Early 1970s

2000/01

% Change

Smoking (Aged 15+)

47%

22%

53% decrease

Overweight (BMI 25; Aged 20-64)

40%

47%

18% increase

Obese (BMI 30; Aged 20-64)

10%

15%

50% increase

Obesity (defined as a Body Mass Index or BMI 30) can increase a persons risk of developing heart disease or stroke by 50%.

We continue to face the impact that tobacco use has on our society, says Dr. Graham. At the same time, we are confronted by the reality that almost half (47%) of Canadians are overweight or obese.

In fact, according to the Heart and Stroke Foundation, almost two-thirds (12.1 million) of Canadian adults (age 20-64) are overweight and/or smoke.

Recent US-based studies indicate that those who are obese can lose more than 10 years of life compared to their normal-weight peers. Obesity and smoking is a double-barreled threat that can cost even more years of life.

Heart and Stroke Foundation research has shown that the number of deaths in Canada attributable to overweight and obesity has almost doubled over the past fifteen years, increasing from 2,514 in 1985 to 4,321 in 2000.

Canadians Weigh In

The big question on everyones minds is: Could public policies be implemented, similar to those being used to curb tobacco consumption, to address excess weight?

Who do Canadians believe is responsible?

Percentage of Canadians

Individual responsibility

54%

Government leadership needed

18%

Food industry leadership needed

2%

When the Heart and Stroke Foundation asked Canadians who is responsible for finding answers to this issue, one in six (18%) suggested that some level of government should take the lead. Interestingly, 2% of Canadians felt the food industry should show leadership.

Yet a panel of Canadian experts in the area of overweight and obesity, convened by the Foundation, says that without leadership from the food industry combined with government policy, the number of overweight Canadians will increase. Earlier polls suggest that the public strongly supports this combined effort.

Overweight and obese Canadians are at greater risk of developing chronic diseases ( heart disease , stroke, cancer, and diabetes) that can lead to premature death.

We live in an environment that promotes obesity, and individuals alone cant solve this problem, says Dr. Peter Katzmarzyk, epidemiologist and Heart and Stroke Foundation spokesperson. The way our society is structured makes it difficult for many people to integrate healthy eating and daily physical activity into their lives. For example, in many cases urban development has reduced opportunities to integrate physical activity into daily life, such as walking to the store or informal sports.

The Heart and Stroke Foundation points out that only 43% of Canadians are physically active. Plus, the convenience of calorie-dense foods as opposed to healthier choices such as vegetables and fruit - in quick service restaurants, convenience stores and even gas stations, makes it even harder for Canadians to make healthy choices.

Our obsession with speed and quick solutions is one of the reasons weight is such a problem throughout North America, says Heart and Stroke Foundation spokesperson and dietitian, Rosie Schwartz. We want fast foods and fast solutions. But the truth is that we have to get back to basics. And for the sake of the next generation, we have to instill these habits in our children.

Tipping the scales the other way

To help Canadians win the battle of the bulge, the Heart and Stroke Foundation is working with national health organizations to encourage all levels of government to commit greater resources to public health and to preventing chronic disease.

Through the HealthCheck program (www.healthcheck.org, the Foundation is working with the food industry to help consumers identify healthy food choices. Over 70 manufacturers offer almost 400 products displaying the HealthCheck symbol. These products have been reviewed by the Heart and Stroke Foundation and they meet established nutrient criteria based on Canadas Food Guide to Healthy Eating.

The Foundation also supports obesity-related research, and we are targeting strategic funds to this critical health issue. The Foundation is providing $1 million in initial funding to two multidisciplinary teams 21 expert researchers - to examine the biological, social, behavioural and environmental aspects of obesity. Additional awards to individual researchers will be finalized by March 2004, furthering Canadian research capacity and expertise in obesity.

The Heart and Stroke Foundation also offers a number of health information resources including: an easy BMI test to see if you fall into the overweight danger zone, Your Health Tools. Canadians can also easily order the Healthy Habits, Healthy Weight booklet and take the Heart & Stroke Risk Assessment Test, available via www.heartandstroke.ca or the toll-free number 1-888-HSF-INFO (1-888-473-4636).

For more information, contact:

Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada

Heather Rourke
613-569-4361, ext 318
hrourke@hsf.ca

Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario

416-489-7111
Elissa Freeman, ext 316

Sharon Edwards, ext 455

For the HSF media representative in your province, see Contact Us at: www.heartandstroke.ca

The Heart and Stroke Foundations Call to Action

To the Food Industry:

  1. Modify our food supply by reducing saturated and trans fat in foods. Work with the government to achieve this. If progress is not made in relatively short order, the federal government should consider regulations to enforce nutritional standards.

  2. Restrict the distribution and advertising of 'junk foods' (energy dense, nutrient-poor foods) to children. Remove them from elementary and high school vending machines and cafeterias. Pulling pop out of schools may seem like a good beginning but is not if the vending machines still contain sugar-laden fruit drinks.

  3. Ensure portion size and pricing are in alignment. Healthy choices should be available in restaurants. Supersize the salad, instead of charging more to replace the fries that already go with the meal.

  4. Improve nutritional labeling and information in quick serve restaurants. Statistics show that on any given day, 30% of kids living in North America visit a fast food restaurant. Their parents should have access to nutrition information on the overhead and table menus to help make informed choices at the point of purchase

To Government:

*All three levels of government municipal, provincial and federal - must support strategies to encourage healthy living, such as: urban planning that supports recreational activity; quality daily physical education in all our schools; and most importantly, a public health system that has the resources to address overweight and obesity and the prevention of chronic diseases.