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Obesity in Canadian Adults: It’s About More Than Just Weight Published: ()

Obesity is at epidemic levels around the world in both children and adults. Although adult obesity in Canada has been relatively steady since 2004, the percentage of adults who are obese today is twice as high as it was in 1978-1979, from 13.8% Footnote 1 to 28.2% (Table 2). This is concerning since obesity is a known risk factor for chronic diseases like diabetes or hypertension.

When are people considered obese?

People are considered obese if they have too much fat on their body that can negatively affect their health. This is usually measured using the Body Mass Index (BMI). BMI is calculated by dividing a person’s weight in kilograms by their height in metres, squared. A BMI of 30 kg/m Footnote 2 or higher is considered obese for adults aged 18 and over. A BMI between 25 and 30 kg/m Footnote 2 is considered overweight.

But like health, developing obesity is a complex process influenced by different factors. Biology (like sex or genetic make-up), behaviours (like physical activity and diet), as well as mental health are important factors. In addition, where someone lives, their income, social relationships and personal identity can all influence behaviour and mental state and thus, also play an important role.

So with this in mind, what are the numbers telling us about obesity in adults?


Demographic Factors

Over the past decade, when comparing men and women, there has been little to no difference in obesity between them. For both, the percentage of people that are obese has remained more or less unchanged. While obesity rates increase with age, it seems to level off around middle-age (Table 1).

Income adequacy takes into account the number of people living in a household and the amount of income available to support them. Some of the factors that contribute to obesity (like diet, sleep, mental health and well-being, etc.) are impacted by income level (Table 2 and Table 3).

While the overall rate of obesity among Canadian adults is 28.2%, it can vary a lot based on where someone lives (e.g. health region) [see map].


Lifestyle Factors

Eating Behaviours

  • Canadian adults think their eating habits are “very good” to “good”, and the majority of them eat their main meal at the family table (92.4%; CCHS 2012 Food Skills Rapid Response). However, most adults do not use the Canada’s Food Guide when doing their grocery shopping (69.5%; CCHS 2012 Food Skills Rapid Response) yet many have habits that help them make healthy choices. For instance, most use a grocery list (73.2%) or read nutrition labels (63.3%) [CCHS 2012 Food Skills Rapid Response]. In general, normal weight adults eat healthier (41.7%) than those who are obese (34.2%) [Table 2]. That said, only 39.3% of Canadian adults actually maintain a healthy diet (Table 2).
  • Current health advice suggests that drinking fewer sugary drinks is part of a healthy lifestyle that contributes to a healthier weight Footnote 2. Although only a small percent of adults (12.8%) say they drink one or more sugar-sweetened drinks per day, specifically regular soft drinks, sports drinks or fruit-flavoured drinks (Table 2), the sales of new sugary drinks like energy drinks, flavoured waters, and sweetened coffees have increased dramatically in Canada with sweetened coffees alone increasing 579% between 2004 and 2015 Footnote 3. Drinking sugar-sweetened drinks is higher among younger adult Canadians but this decreases with age (Table 2).

Activity Behaviours

  • Being physically active is important to health, yet only 22.2% of Canadian adults are active enough (Table 2). In fact, the majority of Canadians’ waking hours (9.8 hours per day) are spent on activities that are sedentary (which means that they require very little movement) such as sitting at a desk or watching television (Table 2). Only a small percentage of adults take active forms of transportation, like walking or cycling, to get to and from their workplace (19.8% walk and 4.1% bike; CCHS 2014).
  • Over the past few decades, as the amount of sleep adults get has gone down (from 8.0 hours per night in 1992 Footnote 4 to 7.2 hours per night in 2013-2014; Table 2), obesity has gone up Footnote 5. Current research shows that 64.5% of Canadian adults do get adequate sleep Footnote 6, but this can vary by age group (Table 2).

Psychosocial Factors

A person’s mental state and social relationships can play a part in the development of obesity, but can also be affected by excess weight Footnote 7, Footnote 8. At all ages, there is widespread discrimination towards those considered obese Footnote 6. Binge eating, which can cause weight gain, has been linked with depression and lower self-esteem, and is often used as a way of coping with stress Footnote 8. Among Canadian adults, a higher number of obese adults report being depressed or having a mood disorder (11.0%) compared to overweight (7.0%) or normal weight (6.9%) adults (Table 3).

Your identity is how you see yourself, your appearance, abilities and uniqueness. Obesity can have an impact on this. Obese adults report feeling happy less often (93.0%) and are less likely to report being in very good or excellent health (45.1%) than adults who are not obese (95.1% and 68.3%) [Table 3]. However, when looking at a person’s outlook on life, both normal weight and obese adults report similar feelings about their sense of community (62.4% and 58.1%) and that they had trusting relationships (95.7% and 95.4%) (Table 3). Interestingly, a higher number of overweight adults report feeling a sense of community (71.1%) and that they had trusting relationships (96.3%) compared to obese or normal weight adults (Table 3).


Dive Into the Data

Use the map below to discover the obesity rate in Canada's health regions. Navigate the map using the Next and Previous buttons or with Tab or Hover. To Zoom, use Click/Spacebar.

Legend (Obesity Rate %)





Description



The obesity rate in is . This is than the national average of 26.1% by . That means that it has the rate of obesity among the in Canada.

This map was created using adjusted data from the Canadian Community Health Survey (2014).


Table 1: Trends and sociodemographic determinants of adult obesity

Time Trends

2004 2007/09 2009/11 2012/13 2014/15
Prevalence (%) 95% Confidence Interval Prevalence (%) 95% Confidence Interval Prevalence (%) 95% Confidence Interval Prevalence (%) 95% Confidence Interval Prevalence (%) 95% Confidence Interval
From To From To From To From To From To
Overweight 36.8 31.1 42.5 36.8 33.5 40.0 34.1 30.7 37.5 35.6 31.3 39.9 36.1 33.1 39.1
Obese All 22.9 18.1 27.7 24.0 20.6 27.3 26.3 22.2 30.4 26.4 21.1 31.7 28.2 24.0 32.3
Class I 16.0 12.3 19.9 15.1 13.1 17.1 16.2 13.9 18.6 17.4 13.5 21.4 16.5 14.2 19.3
Class II 4.5 E 2.4 6.6 5.8 4.6 7.1 6.4 4.3 8.4 5.6 3.7 7.4 7.4 5.3 9.4
Class III F - - 3.0 2.2 3.8 3.7 2.7 4.7 3.4 E 1.9 4.8 4.0 2.6 5.5
Overweight & Obese 59.7 53.7 65.7 60.7 55.7 65.8 60.4 55.8 65.0 62.0 56.8 67.2 64.2 61.0 67.4

Sociodemographic Determinants

Sex
2004 2007/09 2009/11 2012/13 2014/15
Prevalence (%) 95% Confidence Interval Prevalence (%) 95% Confidence Interval Prevalence (%) 95% Confidence Interval Prevalence (%) 95% Confidence Interval Prevalence (%) 95% Confidence Interval
From To From To From To From To From To
Overweight* Males 40.4 32.5 48.2 44.1 39.3 48.9 39.8 35.5 44.1 43.3 36.5 50.1 39.9 34.5 45.4
Females 33.4 25.6 41.2 29.5 26.4 32.5 28.4 23.7 33.1 28.0 20.9 35.0 32.2 28.1 36.3
Obese Males 24.6 16.9 32.4 24.2 20.6 27.9 27.3 22.2 32.4 26.5 20.5 32.5 28.5 23.2 33.7
Females 21.2 15.5 26.9 23.7 19.6 27.7 25.3 20.9 29.6 26.2 18.9 33.6 27.8 23.7 31.9
Overweight & Obese* Males 65.0 56.7 73.4 68.3 63.4 73.3 67.1 62.5 71.7 69.8 64.3 75.3 68.4 64.9 71.9
Females 54.6 46.5 62.7 53.1 47.1 59.1 53.6 47.7 59.6 54.2 47.0 61.4 60.0 54.5 65.4
Age Group
2004 2007/09 2009/11 2012/13 2014/15
Prevalence (%) 95% Confidence Interval Prevalence (%) 95% Confidence Interval Prevalence (%) 95% Confidence Interval Prevalence (%) 95% Confidence Interval Prevalence (%) 95% Confidence Interval
From To From To From To From To From To
Overweight* 18-34 33.5 24.1 42.9 28.0 23.7 32.3 26.2 19.9 32.5 29.9 24.4 35.5 26.2 22.1 30.3
35-49 38.6 E 25.4 51.8 42.5 37.2 47.8 35.5 30.4 40.6 32.8 25.9 39.8 42.2 36.3 48.0
50-64 37.2 26.7 47.7 38.0 33.9 42.2 39.2 32.5 45.8 37.2 30.0 44.4 36.9 31.0 42.9
65-79 42.9 29.9 55.8 40.0 34.2 45.7 38.0 34.7 41.3 50.4 45.0 55.9 42.2 38.3 46.1
Obese* 18-34 17.3 E 9.2 25.3 16.8 13.6 20.0 17.2 12.7 21.8 21.0 E 12.9 29.1 21.9 16.3 27.4
35-49 17.6 E 9.6 25.6 24.7 20.1 29.3 25.8 21.0 30.6 29.2 21.6 36.8 27.9 19.5 36.2
50-64 33.4 22.5 44.3 28.5 23.6 33.4 32.2 23.5 40.8 29.6 24.0 35.2 32.8 24.8 40.7
65-79 26.3 E 15.0 37.6 29.9 26.5 33.4 35.3 31.4 39.2 26.0 19.4 32.5 32.4 28.0 36.7
Overweight & Obese* 18-34 50.7 40.4 61.0 44.8 39.1 50.5 43.5 36.6 50.4 50.9 40.8 61.1 48.1 42.6 53.6
35-49 56.2 41.6 70.8 67.2 60.8 73.6 61.3 56.7 65.9 62.1 54.4 69.7 70.0 64.4 75.7
50-64 70.6 60.0 81.2 66.6 60.3 72.8 71.3 64.0 78.7 66.8 60.7 72.9 69.7 63.2 76.2
65-79 69.1 55.2 83.1 69.9 65.0 74.8 73.3 68.3 78.3 76.4 70.7 82.1 74.6 68.7 80.5

Source: Statistics Canada, Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS) 2004 and Canadian Health Measures Survey (CHMS) 2007/09, 2009/11, 2012/13, and 2014/15. Ages 18 years and over.

Abbreviations:

  • CI: confidence interval
  • E: Interpret with caution due to high sampling variability (coefficient of variation between 16.6% and 33.3%)
  • F: Suppressed due to high variability
  • *: Significant differences across all, or some, items in the category are observed in some, or all, time points
Table 2: Lifestyle factors associated with adult obesity

Eating Behaviours

Healthy Diet (5+ fruits or vegetables per day)
Prevalence (%) 95% Confidence Interval
From To
Overall 39.3 38.4 40.1
Sex* Males 31.7 30.5 32.8
Females 46.5 45.4 47.7
Age Group* 18 - 34 39.2 37.6 40.7
35 - 49 39.8 38.0 41.7
50 - 64 36.4 34.8 38.0
65 - 79 42.6 41.2 44.1
Income Adequacy* Low 34.8 33.0 36.6
Moderate 38.1 36.7 39.6
High 41.4 40.3 42.5
Weight Status* Normal 41.7 40.3 43.2
Overweight 40.1 38.7 41.5
Obese 34.2 32.7 35.7
Sugar Sweetened Beverages (≥1 /day)
Prevalence (%) 95% Confidence Interval
From To
Overall 12.8 10.2 15.4
Sex Males 16.9 13.7 20.0
Females 8.8 5.5 12.2
Age Group 18 - 34 20.3 14.9 25.7
35 - 49 11.6 7.9 15.2
50 - 64 9.2 6.1 12.2
65 - 79 7.4 5.3 9.4
Income Adequacy Low 19.0 12.9 25.0
Moderate 18.6 13.6 23.6
High 8.2 5.5 10.9
Weight Status Normal 13.1 9.0 17.1
Overweight 10.7E 6.2 15.2
Obese 15.0E 9.5 20.6

All-Movement Behaviours

Physical Activity (meeting guidelines)
Prevalence (%) 95% Confidence Interval
From To
Overall 22.2 16.3 28.1
Sex Males 23.5 E 14.1 33.0
Females 21.0 15.5 26.5
Age Group* 18 - 34 36.4 27.1 45.6
35 - 49 18.1 11.9 24.3
50 - 64 16.7 10.8 22.6
65 - 79 11.8 8.5 15.1
Income Adequacy Low 21.6 E 11.7 31.5
Moderate 16.5 11.1 21.8
High 26.0 19.2 32.9
Weight Status Normal 30.3 24.4 36.2
Overweight 18.7 12.4 25.0
Obese 15.9 E 7.2 24.7
Sedentary Behaviour (mean hours/day)
Prevalence (%) 95% Confidence Interval
From To
Overall 9.8 9.6 9.9
Sex Males 9.7 9.4 10.0
Females 9.9 9.7 10.0
Age Group* 18 - 34 9.5 9.1 9.9
35 - 49 9.8 9.5 10.0
50 - 64 9.9 9.7 10.2
65 - 79 10.2 10.0 10.4
Income Adequacy Low 9.9 9.6 10.2
Moderate 9.7 9.5 9.9
High 9.8 9.6 10.0
Weight Status Normal 9.8 9.6 9.9
Overweight 9.7 9.5 10.0
Obese 9.9 9.5 10.3
Adequate Sleep (based on sleep guidelines)
Prevalence (%) 95% Confidence Interval
From To
Overall 64.5 60.5 68.5
Overall hours of sleep 7.2 7.1 7.3
Sex Males 65.2 61.9 68.5
Females 63.8 58.0 69.6
Age Group* 18 - 34 66.8 62.9 70.7
35 - 49 66.3 60.5 72.1
50 - 64 65.8 57.7 74.0
65 - 79 54.2 49.0 59.2
Income Adequacy* Low 55.2 50.4 60.0
Moderate 62.4 56.6 68.2
High 68.7 62.3 75.1
Weight Status Normal 64.3 55.9 72.8
Overweight 67.6 62.9 72.3
Obese 61.4 52.4 70.4

Source: Statistics Canada, Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS) 2014 for healthy diet and Canadian Health Measures Survey (CHMS) 2012/13 for physical activity and sedentary behaviour and CMHS 2014/15 for sugar-sweetened beverages and sleep.

  • Mean values represent mean hours
  • Ages 18 years and over
  • Adequate sleep defined based on National Sleep Foundation guidelines (7 to 9 hours among 18-64 year olds, and 7 to 8 hours among 65 year olds and above)
  • E: Interpret with caution due to high sampling variability (coefficient of variation between 16.6% and 33.3%)
  • * Significant differences across all, or some, items in the category are observed
Table 3: Psychosocial factors associated with adult obesity

Mental Health

Depression or Mood Disorder
Prevalence (%) 95% Confidence Interval
From To
Overall 8.2 7.8 8.6
Sex* Males 6.4 5.8 6.9
Females 10.0 9.4 10.6
Age Group* 18 - 34 7.6 6.9 8.3
35 - 49 8.2 7.3 9.1
50 - 64 10.1 9.2 11.0
65 - 79 6.6 5.9 7.3
Income Adequacy* Low 13.3 12.1 14.4
Moderate 8.3 7.5 9.0
High 6.1 5.6 6.6
Weight Status* Normal 6.9 6.2 7.5
Overweight 7.0 6.4 7.6
Obese 11.0 10.1 11.9

Mental Well-Being: Internal Perceptions of Self

In Good Health
Prevalence (%) 95% Confidence Interval
From To
Overall 58.0 57.3 58.8
Sex Males 57.5 56.4 58.6
Females 58.6 57.6 59.6
Age Group* 18 - 34 65.7 64.2 67.2
35 - 49 63.4 61.7 65.0
50 - 64 54.4 52.9 56.0
65 - 79 47.6 46.1 49.1
Income Adequacy* Low 41.7 39.9 43.4
Moderate 54.4 53.0 55.7
High 66.9 65.8 67.9
Weight Status* Normal 68.3 67.1 69.5
Overweight 61.1 59.8 62.5
Obese 45.1 43.6 46.7
Happy
Prevalence (%) 95% Confidence Interval
From To
Overall 94.5 94.1 94.9
Sex Males 94.7 94.1 95.3
Females 94.2 93.6 94.9
Age Group* 18 - 34 96.4 95.8 97.0
35 - 49 94.1 93.3 95.0
50 - 64 93.1 92.1 94.1
65 - 79 94.7 94.0 95.5
Income Adequacy* Low 89.9 88.7 91.1
Moderate 93.9 93.0 94.7
High 96.8 96.3 97.2
Weight Status* Normal 95.1 94.5 95.6
Overweight 94.9 94.1 95.7
Obese 93.0 92.0 93.9

Mental Well-Being: External Outlook

Strong Sense of Community
Prevalence (%) 95% Confidence Interval
From To
Overall 67.8 63.1 72.5
Sex Males 67.2 62.1 72.2
Females 68.4 62.9 73.9
Age Group* 18 - 34 57.1 48.5 65.6
35 - 49 73.3 68.3 78.3
50 - 64 67.5 61.9 73.1
65 - 79 79.0 73.1 84.9
Income Adequacy Low 61.6 54.6 68.7
Moderate 68.3 60.3 76.2
High 69.7 63.9 75.4
Weight Status* Normal 66.0 59.6 72.4
Overweight 67.0 62.4 71.7
Obese 71.0 62.5 79.5
Trustworthy Relationships
Prevalence (%) 95% Confidence Interval
From To
Overall 95.9 95.5 96.2
Sex Males 95.5 95.0 96.0
Females 96.2 95.7 96.7
Age Group 18 - 34 96.0 95.3 96.7
35 - 49 95.7 95.0 96.4
50 - 64 95.7 95.0 96.3
65 - 79 96.4 95.9 97.0
Income Adequacy* Low 92.6 91.6 93.6
Moderate 95.5 94.8 96.2
High 97.4 97.1 97.8
Weight Status Normal 95.7 95.2 96.3
Overweight 96.3 95.7 96.8
Obese 95.4 94.7 96.1

Source: Statistics Canada, Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS) - Mental 2012 (mental health focus) for happiness and trustworthy relationships and 2014 for depression and perceived health, and Canadian Health Measures Survey (CHMS) 2014/15 for sense of community.

  • Ages 18 years and over
  • E: Interpret with caution due to high sampling variability (coefficient of variation between 16.6% and 33.3%)

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