Study: Canadians mistaken about how healthy they are

Science & Technology by
Alice Walker

A recent report on the health of Canadians commissioned by the CBC highlights some unpleasant truths about the country’s perception of health and wellness.

Among the key findings of the report was the revelation that while 77 per cent of those surveyed believe that they generally live a healthy lifestyle, eat healthier than the average Canadian, and maintain a healthy weight, 51 per cent of them are overweight or obese.

The report, titled Canada Weighs In, is part of the CBC’s ongoing Live Right Now campaign, which aims to motivate Canadians to live healthier.

The multiplatform initiative came up during the development of the CBC’s new Village on a Diet program, a primetime show which follows residents of a British Columbia town as they collectively try to lose weight while being helped by a team of experts.

“We saw an opportunity to do a broader project than just a TV show —one that all Canadians would benefit from,” said Jeff Keay, head of media relations for the CBC. “The facts are shocking—today’s generation may well live shorter lifespans than their parents’ generation.”

The campaign is similar to the CBC’s 2008 environmental initiative, the One Million Acts of Green challenge, which was sponsored by The Hour with George Stroumboulopoulos.

Treading topics including food and nutrition, sleep, and visiting health professionals, the survey explores motivations for making or not making healthy choices.

Most respondents cited lack of time as justification for why they aren’t healthier, with 37 per cent reporting not enough time to make meals, 42 per cent reporting not enough time to get vigorous exercise regularly and 36 per cent noting not enough time to sleep. About half of those surveyed also reported feeling overwhelmed by all the information available about healthy eating.

When asked how to make sense of a myriad of differing sources on health, Katherine Gray-Donald, an associate professor in McGill’s School of Dietetics and Human Nutrition, recommended sticking to reliable sources.

“[Dependable sources] may seem dull as they do not jump on every shred of evidence, but wait until facts are well established,” Gray-Donald said in an email to the Tribune. “In Canada, our straightforward resource is the Canadian Food Guide for Healthy Living, [which] has been updated and is a good interactive program.”

Where to find information on healthy living was a survey topic that yielded differing views between adults and youth. Adults consulted health professionals, magazines, and online health sites more often than anything else in the past year, while youth depended on friends and family members, TV, and health professionals.

Youth also differed in their responses to questions on smoking, with smoking being far less common among younger age brackets, and in their responses to exercise, with youth being much more likely to exercise regularly.

The report seems to have had quite an impact on Canadians who have come across it, according to Dave Scholz, the executive vice-president of Leger Marketing, which conducted the sampling.

“I have received a number of emails from respondents and people who wish they could have been respondents about the study and [commented] on the CBC poll — adding their stories to the mix,” he said in an email. “It has certainly resonated with Canadians.”