The body mass index of overweight Manitoba kids has grown 20 per cent in the past 10 years while nationally, Canadian kids have seen their BMI shrink.
Data released by Statistics Canada this week indicates national efforts to get Canadian kids to a healthier weight are having some success, a University of Manitoba research scientist said.
"Great attention has been placed on the childhood obesity issue with increased media scrutiny that has increased public awareness of the health issues associated with childhood obesity, which probably are part of the reason for these improvements," said Vernon Dolinsky, with the Children’s Hospital Research Institute of Manitoba and assistant professor of pharmacology and therapeutics at the U of M.
From 2004 and 2015, the body mass index of overweight children five to 17 years old in Canada decreased 13 per cent.
"The education system has become more aware of the problem, so physical education programs in schools that had been cut back are becoming mandatory in many jurisdictions with healthier lunch programs and reduced accessibility to junk food within schools," Dolinsky said.
Some provinces, such as Quebec, have placed restrictions on marketing food and beverages to children on TV, he said.
"For example, Quebec, which has had restrictions since the ’80s has the lowest rate of obesity among six- to 11-year-olds in Canada," he said.
"Since 2000, the introduction of body mass index growth charts have encouraged health-care providers to discuss children’s weight openly with families and more weight management programs are available for children than before."
Dolinsky viewed the StatCan data showing overweight Manitoba kids’ BMI getting 20 per cent higher while their national counterparts got 13 per cent lower with caution.
"These numbers are percentages as opposed to absolute numbers, so small shifts in numbers can have a bigger effect in a smaller population like Manitoba, and Manitoba will buck a national trend that would be driven primarily by shifts in bigger population provinces like Ontario and Quebec," the research scientist said.
"There are also demographic and socioeconomic differences between the provinces," Dolinsky said.
The StatCan data showed a 40 per cent increase in the BMI of obese children in Saskatchewan — a province with a population closer in size and demographic makeup to Manitoba.
A provincial spokeswoman said on Wednesday they would need more time to review the data before commenting.
She pointed to Statistics Canada data for a different age group — two- to 17-year-olds — showing the number of obese and overweight children in Manitoba declining from 2004 to 2015.
It was still higher than the national average.
Manitoba does not specifically focus on childhood obesity and weight, but focuses on health promotion, according to information provided by the spokeswoman, stating, "experts say that the common risk factors for both obesity and disordered eating include weight-based teasing and stigmatization, low self-esteem, body dissatisfaction, media exposure and marketing to young children, poverty, and ethnic and cultural differences. A holistic approach that focuses on self-esteem, positive body messages, and healthy lifestyles and creating healthy environments can reduce the risk of both conditions."
It doesn’t encourage focusing on body mass index, either, stating "assessment of health status by BMI does not consider lifestyle behaviours like dietary quality, physical activity, which are, in fact, stronger determinants of death and disease than BMI classification."
Data on children’s BMI can’t be used to infer causality or predict trends,or whether or not Canada has reached a turning point, Dolinsky said.
"While the numbers seem to show we are on the right track, Canadian children still remain relatively heavy when compared to the World Health Organization growth charts," he said.
It’s important for Canada to keep collecting the data for future comparisons, he said.
Carol Sanders’ reporting on newcomers to Canada has made international headlines, earned national recognition but most importantly it’s shared the local stories of the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home.
Read full biography