North Americans Continue to Gain Weight

Jun 18, 2004 08:40 PM EDT

According to a recent set of surveys and reports, the obesity rates in both Canada and the United States continue to climb, despite the warnings of health officials in both countries.

Rates climb almost 1% in two years

Statistics Canada recently released the 2003 Canadian Community Heath Survey which provided a comprehensive look into the health of Canadians. The survey showed that 15% of Canadians were obese in 2003, compared to 14% two years earlier. The overweight percentage of the population in 2003 was 33%, compared with 32% in 2001.

The survey showed that Canadian men are more obese than women, and yet they think they're in excellent health. Experts have commented that the attitude can be explained by societal thoughts regarding body image. As a result, they suggest it is more efficient to target women for exercise and nutrition programs and "hope that they become role models for their husbands and children."

US fares no better

A recent US government report shows that the obesity rates in America are rising as well. The report, published in the June issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, examined data on both adults and children.

The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey contained data on two groups of more than 4,000 adults and 4,000 children gathered in 1999-2000 and then in 2001-2002. It draws the usual distinction between being overweight, obese and "extremely obese," which is defined as exceeding given readings of body mass index (BMI), a measure of weight to height. Obesity is based on body mass index, an approximation of body fat based on height and weight. People with a BMI between 25 and 30 are considered overweight; a BMI of 30 or above is considered obese. Extremely obese people chart at 40 and above.

Slight change in adult statistics

For adults, there was a slight change for the worse in the two surveys—64% were overweight in 1999-2000 and 66% were overweight in 2001-2002. Obesity increased from 30.5 % to 30.6%; and rates of extreme obesity rose from 4.7% to 5.1%.

The survey did not measure obesity among children ages 6 through 19. Instead, its categories were "at risk for overweight" (which means a BMI greater than 85% of the standard weight-for-age chart) or "overweight" (a BMI greater than 95% of the standard reading).

Incidence of overweight rose almost 2% in children from 2001

In the first survey, 30% of children were classified as "at risk for overweight" in 1999-2000; that rose to 32% in 2001-2002. The incidence of overweight rose from 15% in 1999-2000 to 16 % in 2001-2002.

According to the reports’ authors, it is too early to tell whether growing concern about the incidence of overweight and obesity in the United States is having a positive effect, as public health programs, working to improve diet and nutrition and increasing physical activity all take time.


1. Statistics Canada, “The Canadian Community Health Survey: Nutrition,” #" onclick="'/PopBecomeMember.asp','PopBecomeMember','height=350,width=295');return false;.

2. Allison A. Hedley; et al., “Prevalence of Overweight and Obesity among US Children, Adolescents, and Adults, 1999-2002,” Journal of the American Medical Association, 2004: 291:2847-2850.