Though the US and Canada have a lot in common, American children are still more likely to be obese.
Between 2009 and 2013, American girls aged seven to 12 were more than twice as likely to be obese compared with Canadian girls, according to a CDC report published today. And overall, childhood obesity rates in the US were 25 percent higher than those seen in Canada. So, even though the rate of obesity among children has stabilized in the US over the course of the past decade, the US continues to trail behind its Canadian neighbor — a neighbor that's also struggling with obesity and excess weight in kids.
Childhood obesity rates in the US and Canada weren't always this different. At the end of the 1970s, the rate for both countries hovered around 5 percent. The percent of children who were obese grew in both countries during the '80s and '90s, but the increase was more pronounced in the US. And so, even though the obesity rate for children has stabilized in both Canada and the US, American kids continue to experience higher rates of obesity. This means that a higher percentage of children in the US are at risk for obesity-related conditions like prediabetes, bone and joint problems, and cardiovascular disease.
In the study, researchers compared health survey data from Canada and the US, dating back to the late '70s. Then, they broke the most recent data down by age and gender. The idea here was to find where the biggest differences lie; figuring that out could help target interventions at those who need them the most.
19 percent of American girls age seven to 12 were obese
Overall, the differences between Canada and the US were most pronounced for children age seven to 12, especially in girls. About 19 percent of American girls in that age bracket were obese, compared with just 9 percent of Canadian girls.
The differences weren't as pronounced in boys; there was actually no difference between Canadian and American boys when the researchers looked at ages three to 19. But upon parsing the age brackets, they discovered that US boys between the ages of seven and 12 also were more likely to be obese than their Canadian counterparts.
The study wasn’t designed to address why these differences exist, but the findings hint at places where policymakers and doctors could focus prevention efforts.
More can be done
Childhood obesity has stabilized in both the US and Canada in recent years — and that's a good sign. It means that pediatric obesity prevention efforts in both countries may be having an impact. That said, the high rate of obesity among children in the US, especially among young girls, suggests that more can be done.
Knowing where US girls diverge from Canadian girls can help doctors and policymakers focus more tightly on interventions in that age bracket, since those who are obese in childhood are also more likely to be obese as adults. Obesity raises the risk of certain cancers and puts people more at risk of heart disease, diabetes, and other illnesses — so making it easier for children to avoid those risks is crucial.