Over 25% of Manitobans obese

A new study from the University of Manitoba faculty of medicine has found that while more than a quarter of people in Manitoba are now considered obese, the province’s healthcare system is unlikely to be overwhelmed by the demand for services related to obesity.

The study, published by the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy (MCHP), is the first of its kind to connect people’s weight with their use of health services.

Nationally administered health surveys from 1989 to 2008 provided researchers with the height and weight of Manitobans; both factors are needed to get the Body Mass Index (BMI) of an individual. People with a BMI of 25-29.9 are in the overweight group, while people with a BMI of over 30 are considered obese.

Use of health services by members of the obese group didn’t differ much from the use of members in the normal and overweight groups, states a University of Manitoba press release.

“While it was certainly true that people in the obese group used more of every kind of health service that we measured than the people in the normal or overweight group, the difference wasn’t really as big as many people might have expected,” said Randy Fransoo, lead researcher in the study.

Obesity itself is not a direct killer, said Fransoo. However, it is related to the development of quite a few negative health outcomes.

“Being obese on its own doesn’t cause a rapid death,” said Fransoo, “But being obese makes you more likely to get hypertension or diabetes, which makes you more likely to have heart disease or a stroke.”

Over the period from 1989 to 2008, obesity rates have increased from 18.4 per cent to 28.3 per cent among males and from 16.6 per cent to 25.9 per cent among females in the province, the study states. In total, more than a quarter of people in Manitoba are now obese, with the rate increase appearing in young adults.

The key to stemming the rise of obesity rates in Manitoba lies not just in giving people knowledge about healthy living but in achieving behavioral change, said Jim Rondeau, minister of healthy living, youth and seniors for Manitoba. He admits that achieving the behavioral change that is needed will be difficult.

“We have made lack of mobility part of the system. Kids sit for a long time, [and] they’re not as active. We know that [people] don’t walk, they don’t do enough basic exercise,” he said.

As a society, we need to facilitate daily activity and mobility so that people find it easy to make the required behavioral change, he added.

The study focused on variables that may affect a person’s weight. Among these were geography, marital status, employment, age, sex, education, smoking and physical activity.

Sedentary behavior, even for those who are otherwise active, has a significant effect on obesity, as stated in the press release.

“A lot of the benefit that can come from physical activity can come from things that aren’t necessarily at a very intense level,” said Fransoo. “It’s about living an active lifestyle.”

Danielle Bouchard, an assistant professor in the faculty of kinesiology and recreation management, said that finding ways to move and get up during the workday need to be promoted and studied.

“Incorporate exercise and less sedentary behavior in your lifestyle for intrinsic reasons. Not only to lose weight, not only to be cute, not only to treat or prevent diseases but to have a permanent healthy lifestyle,” she said.