What can the public do to slow down the high rise of obesity?

In 2015, obesity was officially declared a “chronic medical disease” by the Canadian Medical Association. In years following, other organizations have followed suit – including Obesity Canada-Obésité Canada, the Canadian Medical Association, the American Medical Association and the World Health Organization.

This sparked a significant shift in public healthcare and will continue to influence the way Canada’s population and health care systems work to reduce the prevalence of obesity. Obesity, defined as “abnormal or excessive accumulation of fat that impairs health,” is a serious health condition that often requires more medical attention and support than simply telling someone to eat better. It is often much more difficult to reverse its effects later in life rather than instilling healthy habits to prevent the onset of obesity. Therefore, a proactive public health approach to obesity and awareness can help more Canadians avoid experiencing the dangers and difficulties of obesity in later life.

Why Care About Obesity?

The negative impacts of obesity are often significant. There are several reasons it is imperative that individuals take proactive measures to avoid experiencing obesity:

1. Obesity affects our ability to both work and play. In almost any profession, experiencing obesity can adversely affect an individual’s performance and comfort on the job. And it’s not just in one’s professional life that someone might notice adverse outcomes from becoming obese. Obesity can restrict one’s enjoyment and participation in a wide variety of activities, from social to recreational. Its influence can be comprehensive and far-reaching.

2. Obesity causes and exacerbates a wide range of health problems. Lists of associated health risks that are closely linked with obesity include cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, schizoaffective disorder, clinical depression, prescription stimulant abuse, panic disorder, social anxiety, phobias, and more. Obesity can cause or worsen a number of health conditions and make treating other health problems more complicated.

3. Canadian health care systems are still not well equipped to handle advanced cases of obesity. As of 2019, assessments of Canada’s health care system reported significant difficulties or roadblocks many individuals will experience that could hamper or even prevent those people from receiving adequate health care for their obesity. Statistics report that as many as 1 in 10 premature mortalities in adults aged 20 to 64 are directly attributable to obesity. Significant improvement must be made to the healthcare system to change these realities. Until that happens, it is more important than ever to work proactively towards preventing obesity and avoiding its effects.

Preventing Obesity: Exercise

Two main strategies exist for preventing obesity: incorporating adequate exercise and proper nutrition into one’s lifestyle. These strategies can be implemented at any age and provide a range of benefits in addition to helping ward off obesity. Whether you plan to implement any of these strategies for yourself or for your family, making adjustments in either of these two areas can be significant deterrents against the possibility of obesity.

Exercise and physical fitness can take countless forms and is more effective when it is incorporated in a way that is fun, approachable, and routine. Even adding a daily walk or weekly trip to a local park to your regular rhythm can be an easy and effective way to achieve physical activity. Other ideas include taking lessons in a physical activity such as dancing or rock climbing; joining a local fitness centre or pool; or taking part in community runs, walks, or cycle groups.

Preventing Obesity: Nutrition

Healthy nutrition and eating habits are easier to incorporate than some fad diets or meal plans make it seem. Incorporating healthier habits can be simple and involve small changes that can be made over time. Plenty of healthy eating resources exist to shape your nutrition journey. Try making one change a week or month, or introducing new health foods one at a time as an experiment. Small, sustainable changes over time are much more effective than trying to stick to restrictive diets for a set period and then returning to old eating habits afterwards.

Ways the Public Can Aid in Reducing Obesity

Obesity as a public health crisis can seem overwhelming – but it doesn’t have to be. This battle can be fought in little steps at a time. Here are a few ways everyone can help combat obesity’s effects on our communities:

1. Make personal lifestyle changes. We can all start by changing ourselves. These don’t have to be significant shifts – small changes over time in our exercise and eating choices make a huge difference.

2. Encourage friends, neighbors, family to consider healthier choices. As a public, we can each do our part in helping others understand obesity and how to avoid it.

3. Support organizations that educate or treat obesity. Many organizations and entities are already working to tackle obesity in Canada and they could use our support. Food banks, outpatient facilities, nonprofits and charities, and more are creating resources, educating the public, providing healthier alternatives, and encouraging lifestyle change. We can support them by donating funding, volunteering, or taking part in their offerings.

Obesity is a serious health crisis. However, we can each play a part in lessening its effects on Canada’s public and helping more people receive the treatment they need or avoid experiencing obesity altogether.

Photo: Andres Ayrton, Pexels