The prevalence of obesity in Canada has doubled over the past two decades. Today, one out of every four of us is packing enough excess body fat to qualify as a health risk — and 8.6 per cent of youth between the ages of six and 17. This is a serious problem. Obesity increases an individual's risk for several chronic diseases, including cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and arthritis. Based on economic costs associated with these diseases in Canada, the price tag for the obesity epidemic is estimated in the range of $4.6 to $7.1 billion per year. (Source: Public Health Agency of Canada)
A healthy diet and exercise are keys to preventing obesity. But there's an environmental connection, too. For one thing, access to green space and "active transportation" routes (for cycling, running and walking) can influence levels of physical activity.
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Less obviously — and more ominously — researchers are pointing to a possible link between certain chemical contaminants and obesity. Evidence is mounting that early exposure to these "obesogens" may play a role in weight gain later in life. It seems that chemicals such as bisphenol A (in food can linings and some hard plastic bottles), phthalates (in some soft plastics and fragrance mixtures), certain classes of pesticides, and perfluorinated compounds (used in some non-stick and stain-resistant materials) can interfere with the body's regulation of metabolism, setting the stage for obesity.
Obesogens are part of the larger group of suspected endocrine-disrupting substances, chemicals thought to mimic hormones or interfere in other ways with the endocrine system, which regulates various body functions. These chemicals have been linked to a range of adverse health effects, even at very low doses.
On January 12, a documentary examining the role of obesogenic chemicals, Programmed to Be Fat, will premiere on The Nature of Things with David Suzuki on CBC-TV. The program will explore the science suggesting that exposures to chemicals in the environment — even before we're born — are pre-programming us to be fat. For a sneak peek, watch the preview online.
The Nature of Things airs on CBC-TV at 8 p.m. (8:30 NL). Check it out next Thursday (January 12) on CBC-TV or the following Thursday (January 19) on CBC News Network — but hold the buttery popcorn in the treated microwave bag.