I recently finished marking 140 editorials for one of the classes I TA for and the topic of choice was obesity. The opinions varied considerably as to who was at fault for the current weight status of our country. Some students believed it to be the fault of the employer forcing employees to work long hours, with few breaks whilst being surrounded by unhealthy food options. Others stated that the government is to blame for not better regulating our salt intake. A few students stated that it was the fault of the individual and that only we have the power to change our health fate.
So what is the answer? Why are more Canadians overweight or obese compared to 30 years ago? Why are many Canadians not meeting the recommended physical activity guidelines?
I (like many others) believe the increasing prevalence of obesity to be multi-faceted.
Many would tout that it is the lack of physical activity leading to obesity. Recent findings from Statistics Canada indicate that 15% of Canadians meet the physical activity guidelines. Do you know what the daily recommendation is? If you do, I am very impressed. It wasn’t until I started my schooling in exercise physiology (2 years ago) that I became aware of such guidelines (150 minutes per week of moderate to vigorous activity). In the past the government was responsible for advertising the guidelines to Canadians. With the recent guidelines both ParticipACTION and the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology (CSEP) are responsible for getting the word out. I think this transition in marketing responsibility is a good one as I wonder how many Canadians were merely unaware that guidelines even existed? How can you meet the guidelines if you don’t even know they exist? Getting the word out is of primary importance if we want to see change.
Others would argue that the availability of high fat, high sugar foods are responsible for this burgeoning problem. Our taste buds are biologically attuned to fat, salt and sugar and thus we cannot help ourselves. Really? Please don’t get me wrong, I love McDonalds. However, I know it is bad for me. So, I can in fact stop myself from eating it. Yet I have had some basic nutritional counselling and understand the effects of ingesting too much fat, salt, and sugar. Many Canadians have not had the opportunity to engage in basic nutrition counselling and are thus unaware of how bad fast food or pre-packaged food is for them. Furthermore, such food is cheap, easily available and packed with energy (not necessarily good energy). For Canadians in lower socioeconomic brackets eating such food is a way to feed their family. Thus, can we really frown upon this behaviour?
The fast pace of our lifestyle is another posited contributor to obesity. Without time we cannot exercise and thus, cannot meet the guidelines. Without time we cannot prepare hearty and nutritious meals for ourselves and our family. Without time, we cannot see past the immediate and look into our health future. The lack of time is a problem, but if we were given more time would we actually devout it to becoming healthier? Perhaps those that are already on the active train would make use of extra time if employers or the government made time regulations, but I bet most wouldn’t.
So what is the main problem? Is it the lack of marketing about the physical activity guidelines and what it means to be active? Is it in the availability of high fat, high sugar foods or the lack of nutritional education? Is it due to the lack of time? Simply, it’s everything. There is no one answer.
Yet, I have to agree with the students who stated that only we have the power to change our health fate. We are responsible for our future. We have the power to adjust and change our health behaviour. Too simplistic? Perhaps. All I know is that until we want to change, we won’t.
What do you think? What are your thoughts on the current obesity rates in Canada? I want to know.