The Grapevine

The Childhood Obesity Epidemic Doesn't Strike Canada As Hard; CDC Recommends America Follow Its Healthy Habits

Canada Obesity Epidemic
Canada's childhood obesity rates aren't as high as America's, leading researchers to take a closer look at the possible reasons why. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

America’s children are on a dangerous trajectory toward growing into a bigger obesity population at a rate faster than neighboring country Canada. In the last 30 years, childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). According to a new Data Brief report released by the CDC, comparing America’s obese children to Canada’s may help shine light on some underlying drivers.

"There are a number of factors that could be contributing to this difference, but no one's really done a study to uncover what those factors are," Dr. Pete Katzmarzyk, a professor of pediatric obesity and diabetes at Louisiana State University, told HealthDay. "It gives us an opportunity to explore why these differences are and maybe lead us to some interventions."

Researchers from the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics, compared the United States to Canada because in the late 1970s they both had a similar childhood obesity population of about five percent. What happened in the last 30 some-odd year gap is what experts want to figure out. Why did America diverge and rapidly worsen as Canada maintained a gradual increase? Today, 19.2 percent of children between the ages of 7 and 12 are obese in the U.S., while only 11.8 percent are obese in Canada.

"I think this report is going to give us a wake-up call about what we're doing different in that age group that's different from our cousin Canada," said King, a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Unsurprisingly, children and adolescents who are obese are more likely to be obese adults. This puts them at risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, certain types of cancer, osteoarthritis. The health risks can strike so early that if a 5- to 17-year-old is obese, there’s a 70 percent chance they already have a risk factor for heart disease.

The CDC’s experts are only now coming up with theories, like the obesity link between having televisions in the bedroom, eating out at restaurants, and the positive impact of Canada’s city layouts that encourage walking and biking. While more research is necessary to unravel this complex physiological mystery of today’s society, they think it could have something to do with America’s plague of lethargy and physical inactivity that starts at an early age.

"People live and work and play within systems, and they are affected by the environment around them," said Dr. Bruce Lee, the director of the Global Obesity Prevention Center at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, according to HealthDay. "That all impacts what they eat, how much they move around, how much they exercise. It's important to shift away from blaming the individual and look at what's going on around the individual."

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