It’s amazing what constitutes good news in the health and fitness world these days. A few days ago, the headline “One in four Canadian adults obese, less than U.S.: StatsCan” ran in the Toronto Star. While it sounds like a great accomplishment, the fact remains that a quarter of the Canadian populous is still obese (with a BMI over 30) – and that doesn’t count those in the “overweight” category with BMIs between 25 and 29.9. The StatsCan study was conducted between 2007 and 2009, and while the data determined the US was still facing a greater epidemic than other countries across the globe, it also highlighted one very disturbing trend. Canada is starting to catch up – and if our expansion continues at the rate it’s at now, we’ll have just as many overweight and obese adults as our Southern neighbours within the next generation.
So what’s to blame for the growing obesity crisis? Depending on the source you use, the extra weight problem that the modern day North American faces is caused by anything from genetics to hormones, and there is even one correlation of childhood weight problems to the amount of time the mother spends working outside the home. The sheer fact, though, is that weight gain today is for the same reason as it was 100 years ago: we simply eat more calories than we burn. Oversized portions in restaurants, “value added” packages of junk food and increasingly sedentary lifestyles all contribute to the total load. The convenience of drive-thru and delivery is now an expectation that has drastically reduced the amount of home-cooked meals consumed in the home. As a result, children are not learning the basics of cooking or indeed the value of “real food” – compounding the issue and setting the stage for another generation of overweight adults.
Beginning to combat the issue starts with a re-setting of priorities. Many people balk at the thought of purchasing fresh produce and nutritious ingredients because on the surface they are more expensive than their boxed and canned convenience counterparts. However, the costs can be offset by shopping at bulk food stores for dry goods and spices (which often have a higher turnover), and by not spending money on processed foods or eating at McDonald’s. Eliminating junk food in the house is a built-in control for emotional and compulsive eaters – no junk, no excess sugar and fat making its way into the body. Paying for nutritious food will also save you money, time and inconvenience in the future by reducing the need for medicine and doctor’s visits. For those who cite a lack of time as their main obstacle to healthy eating, a variety of options are open to you. Batch-cooking for lunches and dinners throughout the week is a good way to start: if you have your own “convenience foods” in the house, there is no reason to go out for a meal. There are also the options of nutritious grocery or food delivery services. Of particular benefit to those hard-working, single executives who are determined to improve their lives but don’t know where to start (or don’t have the time to learn how to prepare healthy recipes), they offer a simple solution that fits both time, budget and ability constraints.
There is no substitute for the benefits that exercise brings to the overall health of the individual. Far from requiring 2-3 hour sessions at the gym, increasing activity is as simple as taking the stairs instead of the elevator, parking further from the door of a building, or even power-walking around the mall. Those with children have a “built-in” fitness centre waiting for them – play tag outside, go to the park and play, even teach them the fun of road hockey. Community centres offer public and family swim and skate times as well, which are economical and a great way for families to bond while doing something physical.
The obesity crisis in Western society does not have to be a century-long epidemic. The more value people begin to place on their wellbeing and health, the less of a “sick-care” system we will need to rely on to get us through our golden years. It just takes a few steps to get started, and a few stairs to keep going.
Sarah Reid, RHNC