The Canadian obesity epidemic: an historical perspective

Obes Res. 2002 Jul;10(7):666-74. doi: 10.1038/oby.2002.90.


Objective: To examine temporal trends in stature, body mass, body mass index (BMI), and the prevalence of overweight and obesity in Canada.

Research methods and procedures: Data for adults 20 to 64 years of age were compared across eight Canadian surveys conducted between 1953 and 1998. Temporal trends in stature and body mass were examined using regression, and changes in weight-for-height were expressed as changes from 1953. BMI data were available from 1970 to 1972 to examine changes in overweight and obesity. Qualitative changes in the BMI distribution were examined using Tukey mean-difference plots.

Results: Significant temporal trends in stature and body mass have occurred since 1953 in Canada. Median stature increased 1.4 cm/decade in men and 1.1 cm/decade in women, whereas median body mass increased 1.9 kg/decade in men and 0.8 kg/decade in women. Increases in the 75th percentile of body mass were larger than the median. The average weight-for-height increased 5.1% in men and 4.9% in women from 1953. Furthermore, the prevalences of overweight and obesity have increased from 40.0% and 9.7% in 1970-1972 to 50.7% and 14.9% in 1998, respectively. The entire BMI distribution has shifted to the right since 1970-1972 and has become more skewed to the right for men than for women.

Discussion: There have been significant increases in stature and body mass in Canada over the last 45 years. Body mass has increased more than stature, particularly in the upper percentiles, which has resulted in the currently observed high prevalences of overweight and obesity.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Body Height
  • Body Mass Index
  • Canada / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Health Surveys
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity / epidemiology*
  • Obesity / history*
  • Sex Characteristics