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Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Researching The Child Obesity Epidemic in Canada

"Even though we haven't seen a decline [in obesity rates] we did see a plateau. We've stabilized -- and we're very happy to have stabilized that, because it was exploding."
"That was an epidemic [rising rates of overweight and obesity among Canadian children]. When those results were published in 2004, it was quite shocking, and prompted a lot of intervention at many levels."
It's the younger children, not the adolescents, who have dropped their body-mass-index scores considerably."
"Really only 15 years ago did we acquire a tool where we could sit down with a family and say, 'this is where  your child falls on the normal spectrum. It gave us a non-confrontational way of engaging  the family in discussions around overweight or obesity"
Dr. Atul Sharma, pediatric kidney specialist, biostatistician, Children's Hospital of Winnipeg
Fact or fiction? Sex burns a lot of calories. Snacking or skipping breakfast is bad. School gym classes make a big difference in kids' weight.
Health officials often warn about a childhood obesity epidemic, but new research suggests that in Canada, for the first time in years, overweight and obesity rates in kids have decreased.     Liu Jin/Getty Images
Between 1978 and 2004 obesity and overweight rates in Canadian children rose from 23 percent to around 35 percent. Newly released figures, however, now show that overweight rates among Canadian children are falling. This problem of overweight children is not Canada's alone. It has been recognized world-wide. Now, with the latest statistics recently published, there is hope that Canada may be one of the first countries able to turn around what has been viewed with universal alarm as a childhood obesity epidemic.

Celebration may be a tad premature, however. While both weight and body-mass-index scores have been seen to decrease overall, the number of children classified as obese, at the highest risk of diabetes-related kidney failure, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and other weight-related health problems, in fact did not change, remaining at roughly 13 percent over the period of the ten-year study, that produced those numbers.

The falling rate affected girls more than it did boys. And it has been younger children, rather than those in their teen years that have been largely affected by the drop in the rates of overweight/obesity.
Fully 25 percent of Canadian children remain unhealthily overweight. Dr. Sharma and the study's lead author Dr. Celia Rodd, a pediatric endocrinologist, examined data on some 14,000 children from national health surveys, where height and weight measurements were available.

Of equal numbers of boys and girls, 80 percent were Caucasian, though there were also representative samples of children from all regions of the country, and throughout socio-economic classes. The 2010 World Health Organization growth charts for Canada were used as a base, so that if a child was above the 85th percentile; heavier than 85 percent of their peers, they're in the overweight camp whereas children above the 97th percentile are classified obese.

Most of the improvements, concluded the research, occurred among children aged five to twelve. Girls had lower scores than boys. It's thought that growth charts for BMI introduced by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control for the first time in 2000 might explain why it is among younger children that weight has stabilized. Other issues were also at play, with prevention and weight management programs aimed at younger children appearing across the country after 2004, resulting in heightened awareness.

As for the teens, in contrast, that awareness did not extend to the fact that poor eating habits had already set in, along with a lackadaisical attitude toward the importance of daily exercise to balance food intake in a healthy, growing childhood. "Close to zero percent" of children had Type 2 diabetes in the mid 1980s. Type 2 diabetes is a lifestyle chronic disease, one normally diagnosed in adults who are middle-aged, sedentary and tend to overeat.

Dr. Rodd, whose practise as a pediatric endocrinologist brings her young patients with diabetes, sees close to 30 percent presenting at her Winnipeg clinic with Type 2 diabetes. The Winnipeg research team examined waist circumference to discover Canadian children have less belly fat than American children, both at the present time and twenty years earlier. While rates of childhood obesity and overweight plateaued in the U.S., according to a recently published study, no decline in any age group has been identified.

"Thus, Canada appears to be faring better than t he U.S. in the war on obesity", wrote Drs. Sharma and Rodd in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, while stressing that more should be undertaken to more fully address the socio-economic drivers; poverty and food insecurity, leading to obesity.

While both weight and body-mass-index scores decreased overall, the proportion of Canadian children classed as obese held steady.
Bruce Edwards/Postmedia News     While both weight and body-mass-index scores decreased overall, the proportion of Canadian children classed as obese held steady.

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