Obesity in Canada: How survey data can inform public policy FIRESIDE CHAT


This Fireside Chat introduced the idea of using survey data to inform public health policy. The moderator, Dr. Jean-Michel Billette from Statistics Canada, shared some great information that could also be used to inform community-based programs and grants. Some general statistics:

  • Estimates regarding the cost of obesity range from 0.7 – 2.8% of national healthcare expenditures. This is between 4.3 and 11 billion dollars.
  • The prevalence of obesity amongst Canadian adults triples between 1985 and 1998. 60.1% of adult males and 44.2% of adult females were overweight or obese in 2011.
  • Among children 5-17 years of age, 19.8% are overweight and 11.7$ are obese.

Statistics recognize that certain subgroups are at additional risk of being overweight or obese. This includes Aboriginal peoples, children and teenagers, low-income Canadians and immigrants.

Child playing hop-scotchDeterminants and factors association with obesity include:

  • Dietary habits: We can track the relationship between certain dietary preferences (fiber intake) and healthy weights.
  • Physical activity: Workplace activity, leisure time activities and the use of active transportation often relate to healthy weights.
  • Socioeconomic determinants: Income for men and education for women are indirect determinants of overweight/obesity.
  • Regional and community-based determinants: residential density; street connectivity and walkability; local fast food supply; and presence of recreational facilities near schools are relate to overweight/obesity.
  • Parental characteristics: Maternal labour force participation, parental work schedules, and ineffective parenting all related to excess weight in children.
  • Other determinants: This includes mental health, ongoing weight struggles, and even the season in which someone is born (winter) impacts the likelihood of being overweight or obese.

Public Policy in Canada

  • Survey data has already been used to impact public policy in Canada. For example:
  • Canada’s Food Guide and national recommendations on physical activity and nutritional labelling;
  • The Trans Fat Monitoring Program and Health Canada’s Sodium Working Group;
  • Trans fat bans in school cafeterias;
  • The promotion of workplace physical activity.

What else could be done?

  • Ban junk food and unhealthy ingredients from restaurant menus and the food manufacturing industry?
  • Tax fast foods and sweetened beverages?
  • Reduce the price of healthy foods and fitness equipment?
  • Implement zoning legislation to restrict access to fast-food outlets in the vicinity of schools?