The evidence we’ve looked at so far is sex-disaggregated – at least in part – but it tells us little or nothing about the relationship between obesity and overweight and the other social determinants of health, such as age, ethnicity, education, etc.
Iteration tells us that there are pieces of information missing from our puzzle.
Consider the following new pieces of information. How, if at all, do they change the emerging “picture” of overweight, obesity and health?
1. Table: 2004 Canadian Community Health Survey: Nutrition. Obesity rates for men and women by selected characteristics, Canada (excluding Territories), 2004
For a description of the information presented in this chart, click here and in the suggested answers found at the bottom of that page, press “play.”
2. RESEARCH STUDY: Quotation from a study participant. Iskwĕwak Mīwayawak, Women Feeling Healthy, Multiple Exposures: An Environmental Scan of Miwayawin Health Services, regarding healthy body weight and body image, 25 January 2008, University of Saskatchewan, (no author listed)
“… you know, a lot of sedentary thin people, people who don’t do any activity at all just kind of have a high metabolism, they are at more risk for heart disease and all of these other diseases…like diabetes and whatever…than the person who may be overweight, who’s BMI may be too high, and their cardiovascular system is in shape. There was a 300 pound man in the U.S. doing a marathon and he did it. So …that perception that thin people are in shape is not the case.”
The chart provides us with much more information about the relationships between the social determinants of health and overweight and obesity. We can see that women who are widowed have higher rates of obesity than other women while men who have never married have higher rates of obesity than other men. Similarly, we can see that household income affects women and men differently. Men appear to gain weight as household income goes up, while women in middle income households are more likely to be obese than women in high or low income households. We can also see that Aboriginal women and men have higher rates of obesity than white women and men. Aboriginal women also have higher rates than Aboriginal men.
With this new evidence, our picture of the obesity “epidemic” has changed. We can see that while overweight and obesity are increasing in Canada, as elsewhere in the world, they do not represent the same concern for everyone. Some sub-populations are at more risk than others.
The second piece of information also changes our understanding of the obesity “epidemic”, calling into question how we define and therefore respond to the issue. This study participant points out that being overweight is not the same thing as being unfit, any more than being thin equals fitness and health. This perspective, which has been supported by other research, is important because it addresses the links between weight and health. In other words, the increased risk of heart disease and high blood pressure associated with overweight and obesity may have as much to do with poor cardiovascular health as with weight.