A person with a large waist size

Obesity among Canadian youth

We all know that being active and staying fit is a key component of being healthy today and for years to come. However, many Canadians are putting their health at risk by being overweight, including children.

One in five Canadian youth are considered overweight or obese according to a recent study, says Statistics Canada. The 2013 Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS) revealed that just over 20% of Canadians 12 to 17 years of age are obese. It’s no secret that obesity is increasingly an issue not only in Canada, but across North America, and spearheading the issue starts with our youth.

The CCHS results

The CCHS revealed that youth and adults have work to do when it comes to making healthy lifestyle choices. Here is what the survey found:

  • 20.7% of youth are classified as overweight or obese (up from 18.7% reported for this age group in 2007)
  • 41.9% of men are considered overweight
  • 27.7% of women are considered overweight
  • 55.2% of people over 12 are at least moderately active during their free time.

Source: CBC News

Causes and trends of obesity among youth

Obesity creates serious health risks for our youth. According to the World Health Organization, obesity is a major public health issue that requires immediate action. In the 2013 UNICEF report on the well-being of children in developed countries, Canada ranks third highest in infant obesity rates among 29 countries studied.

Source: Weight Coalition -- Coalition québécoise sur la problématique du poids

It’s clear that childhood obesity issues can become lifetime issues during adulthood. According to a report by the Canadian Council of Food and Nutrition, up to one-third of adult weight issues and obesity have origins in childhood obesity. Without proper action, the continuance of obesity into adulthood can lead to higher rates of obesity-related diseases in teens and adults, something that will create a need for specialized health care in the future.

Understanding the causes of obesity in children is complex. Many social, behavioural, cultural, and environmental factors all play a role.

Here are some of the most commonly identified risk factors that have been found to impact the health and well-being of our youth:

  • Genetics
  • High birth weight
  • Maternal smoking
  • Rapid weight gain during infancy
  • Consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages
  • Inadequate sleep
  • Lack of exercise
  • Whether you were breastfed
  • Irregular breakfast consumption.

Learn about the importance of eating breakfast.

Some of these factors we can control, and others we can’t. Some evidence suggests that other factors that play a role in childhood obesity, although to a lesser degree, include depression, exposure to advertising of high-calorie foods, and low socioeconomic status.

Eight factors for prevention and treatment of youth obesity

Naturally, there is a need to focus on prevention and treatment to help our children get a good start to their lives and lead a happy and healthy lifestyle.

  1. Education: Educating both parents and children about how to lead a healthy lifestyle is the starting point to reduce obesity not only in children, but in adults as well.
  2. Healthy eating: Did you know that only half of youth consume the recommended number of vegetable and fruit servings daily? Also, calories from sugar-sweetened beverages make up a considerable portion of the diet of children and youth. This needs to change, and we need to ensure our children are eating a well-balanced diet.
  3. Sleep: Getting a good night’s sleep is very important for children. As parents, we need to ensure our children are getting enough rest at night, so they will have the energy to be productive and active each day.
  4. Environment: Creating a healthy and stress-free environment is important to reduce obesity in children. Eliminating stress in the home and being a good role model can help minimize the problem.
  5. Health care: Taking action to prevent minor issues before they become major issues is an important role for parents to play.
  6. Physical activity: A substantial number of children and youth do not get enough daily physical activity. This means that we need to get our kids more actively involved in sports, fitness, and being active.
  7. Breastfeeding: Breastfeeding is associated with lower rates of youth obesity.
  8. Reducing sedentary behaviour: Many young people engage in sedentary behaviours for a large part of their day, such as using computers, watching television, and playing on smartphones and mobile devices. These behaviours tend to increase in older age groups. It’s important to minimize children’s behaviours in this area and get them outside and increase activity in their lives.

Source: Public Health Ontario

We have work to do, and parents play a significant role in helping their children live a healthy lifestyle. Remember that as parents, you set the example for your children. Lead a healthy, active, and balanced lifestyle to help minimize the chance of overweight and obesity issues.