Decrease in Fitness Levels for Canadians

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Canadian Fitness Levels Have Plummeted Since 1981

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WEDNESDAY, Jan 13 2010 ( — Canadians were far less fit in 2009 than they were in 1981, according to a sweeping new Statistics Canada survey, which found that obesity rates have sky-rocketed in both teenagers and adults.

The Canadian Health Measures Survey, which Statistics Canada calls the most comprehensive fitness study every conducted in the country, compiled data by taking direct physical measurements of subjects, including body measurements, cardio-respiratory fitness, musculoskeletal fitness and blood pressure.

The survey found decreases in fitness levels to be most pronounced among adults between the ages of 20 and 39. According to the data, the percentage of adults in this age group with a waist circumference that put them at high risk for health problems more than quadrupled, from five per cent to 21 per cent among men and from six per cent to 31 per cent among women.

In the 60 to 69 age group, 65 per cent of women and 52 per cent of men were considered to be at high risk for health problems based on their waist circumference.

The data for youth was just as alarming. The proportion of both teenaged boys and girls who are at risk for health problems based on their waist circumference more than tripled between 1981 and 2009.

The number of teen boys aged 15 to 19 classified as overweight or obese rose from 14 per cent to 31 per cent between 1981 and 2009, while the number of overweight or obese teenaged girls rose from 14 per cent to 25 per cent.

Dr. David Lau, president of Obesity Canada, said the findings have grave implications, particularly for teens.

“We’re seeing more and more teenage boys, overweight boys, with all the adult problems such as high blood pressure, high blood fat and cholesterol,” Lau told CTV’s Canada AM on Wednesday morning. “So it’s not at all surprising to predict that their life expectancy will be shorter than their parents. And I think that’s a huge wake-up call for all Canadians to perhaps focus on trimming our weight down and become more fit.”

The survey contains the most accurate information available to date about the fitness levels of Canadians. For the past two decades, fitness-level assessments have been based on body mass index (BMI), which is an easily calculated number based on height and weight.

BMI statistics have shown that Canadians have become heavier over the past 25 years, Statistics Canada says.

However, other measurements provide a more well-rounded, and therefore accurate, picture of fitness levels and the resulting potential health risks, such as high blood pressure.

According to the survey, three per cent of the adult population had undiagnosed high blood pressure in 2009.

There are likely a number of reasons for the dramatic drop in fitness among Canadians, experts say.

Dr. Yoni Freedhoff of the Bariatric Medical Institute in Ottawa says declining physical activity is only part of the answer.

In 1981, when the study began, the Internet did not exist, cable television had far fewer channels than it does now, and video games were in their infancy, Freedhoff said. And fast-food choices, as well as prepared and other convenience foods, are only growing in popularity.

“The best thing that I think Canadians can do to start trying to turn this around, quite frankly, is learn how to cook, and to stay at home for meals,” Freedhoff said.

“And to start participating in fitness events and things to do with your family that aren’t just sitting around and watching television, but getting up and going outside.”