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Obesity in Canada is 'overstated': Fraser Institute

VANCOUVER (NEWS1130) – We’ve been hearing the warnings for years: watch what you eat and get lots of exercise.

But now, a policy group is dismissing claims that Canada is in the grips of an obesity epidemic.

The right-wing Fraser Institute says even if we were packing on the pounds, government intervention isn’t the answer.

The Institute wants the government to use caution when considering policies, claiming the obesity rate in Canada has stabilized since 2009, though it rose about three per cent between 2003 and 2012.

It does say the rate among women continues to rise, but argues the rate among men may be dropping. The institute claims rates of 12 to 17-year-old who are overweight or obese have been stable since 2005.

Its study also suggests people at the low end of the obesity spectrum may not be at a higher risk of premature death than those who are not overweight.

The Institute argues proposals and policies like vending machine bans and increased taxes on fatty and sugary foods often don’t take complex causes of obesity into account. Those causes include psychological, physiological and socioeconomic factors like genetics, income, culture, and family life and structure.

It says new or larger government bureaucracies are often needed for those policies, that small business growth is stunted by those policies, and higher business costs are created.

It argues government intervention likely doesn’t do much and further, all of us pay for it, regardless of lifestyle choices we each make.

Ian Janssen with Queen’s University and the Canadian Obesity Network has some problems with some of the data and information in the study. He says the rate of obesity among adults is 26 per cent.

But he does agree there has been a reasonable stabilization of obesity over time.

“I’ll highlight that we have not seen a decrease,” he tells us. “And certainly, when you have one in four of your population having a condition, whether we call it an epidemic or a pandemic or whatever we want to call it — we can argue about the semantics of what an epidemic is — but when you have one in four people in your population have that condition, that certainly is cause for concern,” says Janssen.

He also agrees that government intervention often ignores complex causes.

“It’s not a simple thing to fix, and a lot of the policies or interventions that are put into place are really, really, really, simple, and not complex enough. Does that mean that we shouldn’t be doing things? No.”

Janssen says many measures need to be taken to have an impact on obesity.