The Future of Obesity May be Whiter, Older and Male

September 3/2019

by Françoise Makanda, Communications Officer at DLSPH

DLSPH Prof. Laura Rosella and her team at the Population Health Analytics Lab predicts that in ten years the typical Canadian living with obesity will most likely be a Canadian-born white man, between the age of 50 and 64 – and that he will probably live with multiple chronic conditions.

“Obesity is hard to transition out of,” says co-author Meghan O’Neill, a researcher in Rosella’s team. “Sometimes obesity prevention strategies aren’t targeted to the right audience, that is, individuals who are on the trajectory of becoming obese.”

Survey respondents who were more likely to be obese within the next ten years also lived with multiple health risk behaviours like physical inactivity, heavy drinking and smoking. The data showed some of these health-risk behaviours appearing more commonly in people aged 35 to 49.

The study also found that respondents most likely to be living with obesity in the next ten years were also most likely to have less than a post-secondary education. Of these respondents, many stated they had poor “self-perceived general health.” Although subjective, this measure is considered an accurate predictor for obesity says O’Neill.

“Obesity is hard to transition out of,” says co-author Meghan O’Neill, a researcher in Laura Rosella’s team.

To predict future obesity patterns, Rosella’s team leveraged secondary data from the 2013-14 Canadian Community Health Survey, then entered it in the Obesity Population Risk Tool (OPoRT), a logistic regression model which estimates population trajectories of obesity.

“When we are trying to inform prevention strategies and manage our healthcare system, there are a lot of moving parts,” says O’Neill.

“Population risk tools like OPoRT are designed to help make the way we plan for our system less reactive and more preventative.”

The intervention approaches to tackling obesity that reach a wider population are sparse but available says O’Neill. The study highlights that cities and regions can make incremental changes on the community level by focusing on all populations rather than those living with obesity.

“Picture a pyramid, where people move between high-risk, mid-risk, and low-risk categories. Too often, we fail to consider those who are normal weight, and seemingly low risk. Meaningful strategies to prevent people from living with obesity should also consider individuals of normal weight status but whose trajectory may put them at high risk of obesity in the future.”