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Health Reports: Regional differences in obesity

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The Daily

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Adults who lived in large Canadian cities in 2004 were far less likely to be obese than were their counterparts who lived outside such metropolitan areas, a new report indicates.

The report "Regional differences in obesity" is based on actual measurements of height and weight from the 2004 Canadian Community Health Survey. The study examines obesity and overweight individuals inside and outside census metropolitan areas (CMAs).

Overall, 20% of CMA residents aged 18 or older were obese in 2004, compared with 29% of those who lived outside a CMA. The national average for obesity was 23%.

Furthermore, as the size of the city increased, the likelihood of being obese fell. In CMAs with a population of at least 2 million (Toronto, Montréal and Vancouver) only 17% of adults were obese. The comparable figure for CMAs with a population of 100,000 to 2 million was 24%. In urban centres with populations of 10,000 to 100,000, 30% of adults were obese.

The report examined whether low obesity rates in the largest cities could be explained by the tendency of immigrants to settle in these areas, given that immigrants are less likely than people born in Canada to be obese. However, the relatively low prevalence of obesity in large cities persisted, even when immigrant status and the number of years since immigrating were both taken into account.

Among adults who did not live in urban centres, those who commuted to a large city or even to a smaller urban centre were less likely to be obese.

In municipalities where a high or fairly high proportion of the population commuted to a nearby urban centre, obesity rates were comparable with the national average. In those where few commuted to work in an urban centre, the obesity rate was almost twice the national average (44%).

While there was a relationship between excess weight and urban-rural residence among adults, the same was not true for children. Nationally, the proportion of 2- to 17-year-olds who were overweight or obese was comparable in large CMAs, smaller CMAs, other cities and rural areas. Alberta was the one exception to this trend. There, young people aged 2 to 17 who lived in CMAs were less likely to be overweight/obese than were those who did not.

In a small number of CMAs, the prevalence of obesity/overweight differed significantly from the national average of 26.2% for those aged 2 to 17. Proportions were much higher than the national average among children in Gatineau (48%), Kingston (46%) and Winnipeg (32%) and low in Quebec City (15%), Ottawa (16%) and Calgary (16%). However, these differences were based on small sample sizes and should be interpreted with caution.

In the adult population, the obesity rate differed significantly from the national average of 23% in St. John's (36%), Toronto (16%) and Vancouver (12%).

For more information, or to enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this article, contact Margot Shields (613-951-4177;, Health Statistics Division.

Note to readers

This release is based on regional differences in obesity, one of five articles in the latest issue of Health Reports. The report is based on data from Statistics Canada's Canadian Community Health Survey, which actually measured the height and weight of adults and children.

This edition of Health Reports contains four other articles. The article "Trends in adult obesity" examines the increase in obesity between 1978/1979 and 2004. The increase was greater among men than among women, and was particularly pronounced among men who were former smokers. Since the mid-1980s, differences between income groups in the prevalence of obesity tended to diminish. For more information, or to enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this article, contact Margot Shields (613-951-4177;, Health Statistics Division.

Electronic versions of the three remaining Health Reports articles were released previously. "Adult obesity" and "Overweight and obesity among children and youth" reflect the July 6, 2005 releases in the Canadian Community Health Survey series (82-620-MWE, free), which is available from the Publications module of our website. "Obesity: A growing issue," released on April 7, 2005 as part of the Healthy Today, Healthy Tomorrow? Findings from the National Population Health Survey (82-618-MWE, free) series, is also available from the Publications module of our website.

Definitions, data sources and methods: survey number 5049.

Complete versions of all five Health Reports articles appear in the latest issue of Health Reports, Vol. 17, No. 3 (82-003-XIE, free), which is now available from the Publications module of our website. A printed version (82-003-XPE, $22/$63) is also available.

For more information about Health Reports, contact Christine Wright (613-951-1765;