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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Childhood obesity: an estimate of prevalence in Canada and an analysis of associated factors Limbert, Joanne Marie


Childhood obesity is a complex, multifaceted problem with genetic, biochemical, physiological and environmental components. A first step in determining appropriate treatment and prevention strategies for childhood obesity is an epidemiological diagnosis. Accordingly, the objectives of this study were to estimate the prevalence of childhood obesity in Canada using available data from two National surveys (Canada Fitness Survey, 1981 and Campbell's Survey on Well-being in Canada, 1988) and to determine if significant differences existed between the obese children (OC) and the non-obese children (NOC) with respect to specific lifestyle, physical and psychological factors as well as attitudes and goals concerning physical activity. In addition, parental data was analyzed to determine if significant differences existed between the parents and their children with regards to these same factors. Using the age and sex specific 85th percentile of the sum of 5 skinfolds from the Canada Fitness Survey as the criteria for obesity, the prevalence of obesity among children aged 7 to 12 years was shown to have risen from 15.4% in 1981 to 23.9% in 1988. This increase was larger among females (15.3% to 25.9%) than males (15.2% to 22.0%). As expected, the mean weight, BMI, triceps skinfold and sum of 5 skinfolds were significantly larger in the OC, compared to the NOC and the OC were significantly taller and had a significantly higher resting heart rate. The OC also appeared to be less fit as evidenced by their significantly inferior performance on the Canadian Standardized Test of Fitness Step Test. Results from energy expenditure data provided further evidence that the OC were less active than the NOC. Overall, the OC and NOC were similar with respect to their general eating habits with the only exception being that obese females ate breakfast significantly less often than non-obese females. The responses to several different questions indicated that significantly more of the OC were concerned with their weight and were trying to lose, or at least maintain, their weight. The obese females watched significantly less television than the non-obese females while no differences were found between obese and non-obese males. Significantly more of the OC identified "a lack of time due to work or school" as an important barrier to participating more regularly in physical activity. Several of the attitudes obese males had towards physical activity were significantly different from those of non-obese males with the obese males tending to have less positive attitudes. In addition, the obese males indicated a significantly lower level of support from their parents and close friends to participate in physical activity. Overall, the analysis of the parental data indicated that, compared to their children, the parents had less desirable eating habits, different goals with regards to their spare time, less positive attitudes towards physical activity and they were less active. These differences were often significant when the parents of non-obese children were compared to their children while they were less likely to be significant when the parents of obese children were compared to their children. As well, there was a high prevalence of obesity among the parents with a significantly higher proportion of the parents of obese children being obese compared to the parents of non-obese children. In general, the results of this study provide evidence that the prevalence of childhood obesity in Canada is increasing and that OC may differ from NOC with respect to certain lifestyle and physical factors. Additional research in this area is needed to further understand the behavioural and environmental factors that are contributing to this increasing health problem.

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