OTTAWA (Oct. 4, 2011) – Canadians are pushing themselves to the brink of their physical and financial health, says Canada’s Vital Signs 2011, the annual report card on quality of life from Community Foundations of Canada.
National obesity rates and personal bankruptcy numbers continue to rise unabated – and although Canada’s youth unemployment rates haven’t reached the epic proportions of some European countries, it’s an issue that communities ignore at their peril.
“When I see these numbers I think about young people in our communities and the future we’re creating for them,” says Ian Bird, President and CEO of Community Foundations of Canada. “We don’t want our legacy to be about more sedentary lifestyles, not enough engagement in the work world and worries about our long-term financial future.”
Rising obesity rates
Although Canada has been battling the bulge for a decade, national obesity rates continue to rise despite better food labelling, healthier food options in schools, reduced amounts of trans fats in our food supply, and tax incentives to promote physical activity. The estimated cost to Canadian communities is $4.6 to $7.1 billion each year.
The most recent statistics (2010) show that 18.1 per cent of Canadian adults describe themselves as obese, an increase of 2.8 percentage points since 2003. The prevalence rate is even higher: about 1 in 4 adults and 1 in 11 children.
The statistics show current efforts by policy-makers, businesses and non-profits are not working. And one of Canada’s foremost obesity experts says it’s because they don’t recognize the irreversible societal changes that have taken place in this country.
“We have nurtured the obesity epidemic – through sedentary work and lifestyles, a constant time crunch, and our fast-food culture – and now we must accept that it is a chronic disease,” said Dr. Arya Sharma, Scientific Director for the Canadian Obesity Network.
Sharma said most anti-obesity programs in Canada offer short-term solutions, which are not effective because, as research shows, most obese people cannot lose weight and keep it off. But a new strategy by Alberta’s provincial healthy authority– the first in Canada to recognize obesity as a chronic progressive condition – offers hope, says Sharma, Professor of Medicine and Chair for Obesity Research and Management at the University of Alberta.
High youth unemployment
Like many countries around the world, unemployment among Canada’s youth is significantly higher than among the population at large. Right now we are faring better than most industrialized countries – the unemployment rate for youth in 2010 was 16 %, better than the average rate of 20 per cent in other OECD countries.
However, the UK riots last spring (attributed largely to the NEET – Not in Education, Employment or Training – phenomenon) show us the impact of disengaged youth. Our OECD counterparts offer a cautionary tale for Canada – New Zealand, Sweden, and Luxembourg are now facing four-fold gaps between youth and overall unemployment.
Personal bankruptcy on the rise
Businesses are staying in the black, but more consumers are in the red. In the past decade, consumer bankruptcies have increased 23.4%, to a total of 92,694 by 2010, while business bankruptcies have been cut by more than half.
This could be related to the fact that businesses tend to lay off employees during recessionary times (temporary layoffs climbed from 77,300 in 2008 to 117,000 in 2009), thus staving off bankruptcy by cutting costs – and to the fact that household debt in Canada reached a record $1.5 trillion in the first quarter of 2011.
Twenty-two local reports released today
Vital Signs is a national program, run by community foundations across Canada, that measures quality of life in our communities across a range of areas including education, work, and the arts. Today, 22 local Vital Signs report cards are being released by community foundations across Canada and can be found at www.vitalsignscanada.ca.
The reports will be followed up by the Vital Signs Giving Guide, sponsored by Webber Naturals, and published in The Globe and Mail’s Life section on Oct. 11. The Giving Guide shares opportunities for action across the country based on Vital Signs findings.