When it comes to rates of obesity and overweight, Canada ranks 6th among member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

With nearly one-third of Canadians overweight and about one in four obese, our citizens rank behind Americans, Mexicans, Britons, Australians and New Zealanders.

The good news is that Canada's proportion of overweight citizens isn't growing as fast as other nations. In fact, our rate of increase has been one of the slowest in the OECD.

The report also predicts that  in the U.S., three out of four Americans will be overweight or obese by 2020.

The OECD is better known for forecasting deficits than measuring waistlines, but in its first-ever obesity forecast, it notes that economic cost of excess weight is a growing concern for many governments.

The report said disease rates and health care spending will balloon unless governments, individuals and industry co-operate on a comprehensive strategy to combat the epidemic.

"Obesity is expensive, and a burden on health systems," the report notes. "Throughout their lives, health care expenditures for obese people are at least 25 per cent higher than for someone of normal weight and increase rapidly as people get fatter.

"However, the reduction in life expectancy is so great that obese people incur lower health care costs over their lifetime (13 per cent less, according to a Dutch study) than those of normal weight – but more than smokers, on average."

The report notes that rates of obesity and overweight have been increasing consistently over the past three decades across the globe.

"Before 1980, obesity rates were generally well below 10 per cent. Since then, rates have doubled or tripled in many countries, and in almost half of OECD countries 50 per cent or more of the population is overweight," the report notes.

The report says that the obesity epidemic is the result of "multiple, complex and interacting dynamics, which have progressively converged to produce lasting changes in people's lifestyles."

Among those changes:

  • the supply and availability of food have increased
  • the sophisticated use of promotion and persuasion have increased
  • the price of calories has fallen dramatically
  • convenience foods have become available virtually everywhere
  • the time available for traditional meal preparation has shrunk
  • decreased physical activity at work
  • increased participation of women in the labour force
  • increasing levels of stress and job insecurity