3.7.4. Weighing In on Canada

Weighing In on Canada

In 2018 an examination of Canadian BMIs revealed that 26.8% of Canadians were obese and 36.3% were overweight. These numbers increased between 2015 and 2018 by about 2%. Overall, males were more overweight and obese than females. [1]

Figure Obesity in Canadian Adults

Source: Statistics Canada, Obesity in Canadian Adults, 2016 and 2017, March 10, 2020. Reproduced and distributed on an “as is” basis with the permission of Statistics Canada.

When examining the BMIs of Canadian children it was found that 1 in 7 children and youth are obese. However in the past decade, rates of excess weight have been relativity stable in Canadian children and youth. [2]

With such a diverse population in the U.S. and Canada and with an understanding of how BMI is calculated, it is only natural to question the high number of overweight and obese citizens based on BMI alone. However, it is generally believed this is an accurate portrayal of weight status. In a study attempting to compare BMI measurements to actual body fat percentage, it was determined that the total number of obese citizens may be underestimated, and its current prevalence may be worse than is currently being reported.

What Can Be Done?

With the available tools to identify health risks associated with body fat, anyone concerned about their health should gather as much data about body composition and body fat distribution as possible. Compiling multiple measurements and analyzing them provides a better idea of a person’s current health status and will help determine the next course of action. For example, BMI alone can be beneficial. But when combined with waist circumference, a greater understanding of risk can be achieved. Likewise, when combining BMI and waist circumference with body fat percentage, an ideal conclusion of health status can be made.

The next course of action is to set goals and formulate a plan to get to a healthy range of weight and body fat percentage. Where weight loss is needed, the plan should include a balance of calorie restriction and physical activity/exercise. This might also include tracking your current eating and activity habits. More specific information on weight management strategies will be discussed in a later chapter.

Low Body Fat

Because more people experience excess body fat, the focus up to this point has been on health concerns related to overweight and obesity. However, fat is an essential component to a healthy body, and in rare cases, individuals have insufficient fat reserves, which can also be a health concern. The range of essential body fat for males is 3-5% and 8-12% for females. Attempting to, or intentionally staying in those ranges, through excessive exercise or calorie restriction is not recommended. Unfortunately, low body fat is often associated with individuals struggling with eating disorders, the majority of whom are females.

The main concern of low body fat relates to the number and quality of calories being consumed. Foods not only provide energy but also provide the necessary nutrients to facilitate vital body functions. For example, low amounts of iron from a poor diet can result in anemia. Potassium deficiencies can cause hypokalemia leading to cardiovascular irregularities. If adequate calcium is not being obtained from foods, bone deficiencies will result. Clearly, having low body fat, depending on the cause, can be equally as detrimental to health as having too much.

The health concerns most often linked to low body fat are:

  • reproductive disorders
  • infrequent or missing menstrual cycles
  • respiratory disorders
  • immune system disorders
  • circulatory disorders
  • premature death

In some cases, despite attempts to gain weight, individuals are unable to gain the pounds needed to maintain a healthy weight. In these cases, as in the case of excess fat, a holistic approach should be taken to determine if the low levels of body fat are adversely affecting health. These individuals should monitor their eating habits to assure they are getting adequate nutrition for their daily activity needs. Additionally, other lifestyle habits should be monitored or avoided, such as smoking, which may suppress hunger.

Additional reading on low body fat and its impact can be found on the Livestrong.com website, on this page: At what body fat percent do you start losing your period?

Terminology Checklist

Body composition: the measurement of the body’s proportion of fat mass to fat free mass.

Fat mass: the amount of fat tissue in the body often expressed as a percentage of total body mass.

Fat free mass (FFM): non-fat tissue in the body such as bones, muscles, ligaments, and blood.

Essential fat: the amount of fat needed for vital body functions.

Non-essential fat: the amount of fat that exceeds the necessary fat needed for vital body functions. This fat is considered energy storage.

Overweight: the accumulation of non- essential body fat to the point that it adversely affects health.

Obesity: defined as excessive accumulation of body fat and can be defined as a more serious degree of being overweight.

Adipose tissue: another term for fat. More specifically it is loose connective tissue composed of adipocytes.

Subcutaneous fat: fat tissue stored below the skin’s surface.

Visceral fat: fat tissue stored around central organs.

Android shape: a body shape used to help characterize body fat distribution in which fat is stored in the abdominal region. The android shape is also called the “apple” shape.

Gynoid shape: a body shape used to help characterize body fat distribution in which fat is stored in the hips, buttocks, and thighs. It is also called the pear shape.

Body mass index (BMI): an index based on concept that weight and height should be proportionate. It is calculated by dividing weight by the height squared (weight/height2).

Hydrodensitometry: this method attempts to measure the density of the body by using water displacement.

Dual energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA): a method of measuring body composition that uses low energy x-rays that also measure bone density.

Air displacement plethysmography: a method of measuring body composition that measures the density of the body by using air displacement.

Bio-electrical impedance analysis (BIA): a method of measuring body composition by emitting a small electrical current through the body and using the amount of resistance encountered by this current to predict body fat content.

Skinfold analysis: a method of measuring body composition by measuring the diameter of pinched skin at various sites on the body.

  1. Overweight and obese adults. Statistics Canada. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/en/pub/82-625-x/2019001/article/00005-eng.pdf?st=U0H1ykqg. Updated on June 25, 2019. Accessed on March 10, 2020.
  2. Rao, D. et al (2016). Childhood overweight and obesity trends in Canada. Health Promotion and Chronic Disease Prevention in Canada : Research, Policy and Practice, 36(9), 194–198.


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

Fundamentals of Health and Physical Activity by Kerri Z. Delaney and Leslie Barker is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.