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Study uncovers low awareness of the health risks of obesity

By Jenn Deon | Jan. 13, 2011
“Join Weight Watchers now for free!” “Get the lowest price ever on Nutri-System!” “Introducing the Slim Fast 3-2-1 Plan!” “All treadmills now on sale!” 

It seems that everywhere you look, ‘tis the season to be thinking of weight loss.

But are Newfoundlanders and Labradorians truly aware of the dangers of being overweight?

A recent study conducted in the province seems to indicate that this may not be the case.

Dr. Laurie Twells, an assistant professor at Memorial’s School of Pharmacy and Faculty of Medicine, led the study, entitled “The Relationship Among Body Mass Index (BMI), Subjective Reporting of Chronic Disease, and the Use of Health Care Services in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada,” which was published in Population Health Management in 2010.

This study found that the majority of obese (those with a BMI of 30-35) and morbidly obese (those with a BMI of over 35) individuals in the province self-rated themselves as in good, very good or excellent health, pointing to a lack of awareness regarding the health risks associated with obesity. 

The study confirmed that the health risks associated with obesity are significant.

Dr. Twells and her colleagues found obese and morbidly obese individuals were more likely than their non-obese peers to report having been diagnosed with several chronic conditions.

They found obese and morbidly obese individuals in our province:
•    are four times and six times more likely to have cerebrovascular (including high blood pressure, heart, stroke) diseases compared to normal weight individuals
•    are two times and five times more likely to report having diabetes
•    high blood pressure alone is five times and eight times more likely to be reported

In addition, the morbidly obese had double the number of visits in the previous year to a general practitioner, compared to normal-weight individuals.

Dr. Twells analyzed data from 2,345 people living in Newfoundland and Labrador who had responded to the Canadian Community Health Survey in 2001.

She believes that there is a need to increase public awareness in Newfoundland and Labrador, and move more people to being aware of their own BMI and the risks to their health.

“The issue we’re challenged with at the moment is that excess body fat in our society – and in Canada – has become the norm,” Dr. Twells stated. “Sixty to seventy per cent of our populations across the country are overweight or obese. So what we see when we look around is everybody that looks like us.”

“We’ve lost the message that excess body weight actually puts you at increased health risk for certain conditions, and potentially premature mortality.”

Dr. Twells’ is also concerned about the ability of the health system to cope.
 
“The obesity epidemic is a nationwide problem, but our province has the highest rates in Canada,” she said.

“I am not confident that the healthcare system and practitioners in Newfoundland and Labrador, and other provinces, can cope with the current demand and potential future demand from the increased numbers of obese individuals.”

“I think that governments need to get involved in promoting healthy living on a much wider scale.”

To read Dr. Twells’ study, visit the School of Pharmacy website at www.mun.ca/pharmacy.

Memorial promotes active living and a positive work/life balance for faculty, staff and retirees by offering a variety of programs, events, nutritional information and on-line resources focused on wellness to encourage healthy lifestyle choices. Visit the Memorial’s Wellness and Healthy Lifestyle page at http://www.mun.ca/humanres/wellness/.


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