Credits: FILE PHOTO
Young man, it might be time to put down the potato chips and step away from the Xbox.
Nearly one-third of Canadian children - an estimated 1.6 million - are overweight or obese, Statistics Canada reported Thursday. And the problem is especially pronounced in Canadian boys.
Using World Health Organization standards, StatsCan estimates that 31.5% of Canadian children aged 5 to 17 were overweight (19.8%) or obese (11.7%) in 2009 to 2011.
The percentage of overweight children is similar across age groups. But more boys (15.1%) are obese than girls (8%). The difference is most notable for kids aged 5 to 11, with 19.5% of boys but only 6.3% of girls characterized as obese.
Dr. Shazhan Amed, a pediatric endocrinologist at the B.C. Children's Hospital in Vancouver, says more research is required to explain the differences in obesity rates between boys and girls.
She speculates that screen time - video games for the 5- to 11-year-olds especially - likely affects boys more than girls.
Researchers used the height and weight measurements of 2,123 survey respondents collected as part of the 2009 to 2011 Canadian Health Measures Survey to derive body mass index (BMI) values. BMI values were then classified as normal weight, overweight and obese.
StatsCan researchers said the findings aren't surprising, but are nonetheless concerning.
"Although these estimates have not changed significantly in recent years, more data points are needed to determine if the pace of increase in prevalence is slowing, as has been observed in some countries," the report concludes. "Regardless, the estimates remain high and are a public-health concern, given the tendency for excess weight in childhood to persist through to adulthood."
And that view is one that pediatric endocrinologists share.
"I think what we all are wishing for is a decrease in rates of overweight and obesity among children," Dr. Amed said. "1.6 million - that's a lot of kids. I don't think we can take that much comfort in the fact that rates haven't gone up."
"I think the most important thing that the public should take away from this data is that we all have a role to play," she said.
Dr. Katherine Morrison, a pediatric endocrinologist at McMaster Children's Hospital and McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont., said we need to look at our own habits.
"I think you really have to move outside of the family and look at societal change," she said. "We have to help families and make those healthy decisions be the easy decisions."
The classification of children as overweight or obese under the WHO standards replaces earlier data compiled under the International Obesity Task Force (IOTF) standards, which have been found to underestimate obesity.