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Canadians trapped on weight-loss rollercoaster

Canadians trapped on weight-loss rollercoaster

A Heart and Stroke Foundation survey of almost 2,000 Canadians found that 62% reported intentionally losing five or more pounds over the past five years but failed to keep the weight off. And 70% of those who were overweight or obese regained all or even more pounds after their weight-loss efforts.

“Obesity and overweight have become one of the leading public health concerns in Canada,” stressed Dr. Marco Di Buono, Director of Research, Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario. “We know that within the past 30 years, the prevalence of obesity doubled among those ages 40 to 69 and tripled among those 20 to 39.”

This is even more concerning as the 2010 Heart and Stroke Foundation Report on Canadians’ Health recently declared young adults – ages 20-39 – as Canada’s new “at risk” group. Within this age group, 3 million are inactive, 2.5 million are overweight or obese, 2 million smoke, 164,000 have high blood pressure and 66,000 have diabetes.

“Excess weight and extra body fat around your waist can lead to high blood pressure, unhealthy cholesterol levels and type 2 diabetes, increasing your risk of heart disease and stroke,” says Dr. Di Buono.

According to the Foundation’s weight survey, young Canadians represent the largest percentage of all age groups who spend the most amount of money in their attempt to lose weight.  Fifty percent of overweight people 20 to 39 report paying for their weight loss efforts, such as club or gym fees, special diet foods or supplements. Almost half (42%) spent $500 or more. However, older adults aren’t far behind: among those 40 to 69, about a third report buying fitness equipment and other items. In total, almost four out of every 10 people who try to lose weight report spending money to do so.  

The cost of weight loss

Among overweight or obese participants:

20-39 yrs

40-59 yrs

60-69 yrs



Costs associated with weight loss attempts





Of those who spent money, spent more than $500*





Bought special piece of exercise equipment or work-out video/DVD





Bought meal replacements shakes or bars





Over-the-counter weight-loss supplements or herbs





Went to weight loss club of organization





Bought special pre-packaged meals





* of total overweight/obese participants, percentages who spent >$500 would be 21% for those 20-39, 14% of those 40-59, and 13% for those 60-69, for an overall total of 16%

How are Canadians still trying to lose weight?

In an effort to lose weight, a large number of Canadians report using dubious “quick fix” strategies: 39% said they followed a diet that restricted certain foods or food groups, 31% used meal replacement bars or shakes, 23% used weight-loss supplements or herbs, and 21% tried fasting. Only one quarter (24%) sought counselling from a dietitian or doctor.

The biggest challenge – and biggest gap −appears to surface after achieving weight loss: nine out of 10 reported there was no person or resource to help them maintain their weight loss. Without support, six out of 10 people who are obese regain at least some weight and another three out of 10 regain all of it or even gain more. Moreover, the Heart and Stroke Foundation poll found that the heavier you are, the more difficult it is to keep the weight off. 

After the diet: what happens next?

What typically happens after you lose weight?

“We all want immediate gratification when it comes to losing weight and research has shown that the quick fix is not the way to go if you want to keep it off,” says Carol Dombrow, Registered Dietitian. “Fad diets tend to eliminate certain essential and nutritional food groups such as fat or carbohydrates. The bottom line is that fad diets don’t work in the long term. People can’t keep them up forever and the weight tends to come back. More importantly, there is little research about the long-term health effects of fad diets.”    

According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation, it is important to consult a healthcare professional to help you make healthy lifestyle changes such as choosing healthy foods and being physically active on a regular basis so that you can achieve and maintain a healthy weight. 

Is there a doctor in the house?

Healthcare professionals such as doctors and registered dietitians can play a pivotal role in healthy weight loss.

“Losing weight and keeping it off should be your long-term goal,” says Dr. Sean Wharton, an internal medicine specialist who treats many patients who are overweight or obese. “Your doctor, for example, can help keep you motivated by showing you benefits that don’t show up on a weigh scale such as positive changes to your blood pressure, your cholesterol and other markers of health.”

But in the Foundation’s survey, only one out of every four overweight Canadian ages 20 to 69 reported that their doctor counselled them to lose weight. Among the survey respondents ages 20 to 39 and overweight, only 12% reported their doctors had told them to lose weight, increasing to 28% among those 40 to 59, and 32% among those 60 to 69 years old.


In addition, only half (48%) of overweight or obese Canadians ages 20 to 69 reported having their waist circumference measured, either by themselves or by a healthcare provider. A large waist circumference indicates that excess weight is accumulating around the middle and is a risk factor for high cholesterol, diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. 

“The good news is that most Canadians feel comfortable talking with their doctor about their weight and feel weight is part of their doctor’s responsibility for health,” says Dr. Wharton. “There may be a time issue – 30% of Canadians feel their doctor doesn’t have the time to deal with weight −but it’s important that more Canadians have these conversations. Talking to their doctor and asking to have their waist circumference measured can be an important first step towards starting important conversations about the health effects of being overweight.” 

Doctors and weight loss 

Among those who are overweight or obese:


Would feel comfortable talking with their doctor about their weight


Feel weight loss is part of their doctor’s responsibility


Feel doctors have expertise in weight issues


Ever measured their waist circumference


Feel doctors don’t have the time to deal with weight issues


Doctor advised them to lose weight


Reaching a healthy weight….and maintaining it

The Heart and Stroke Foundation has introduced the Heart&Stroke Healthy Weight Action Plan™ - a free, personalized, 12-session online resource - to help Canadians achieve and maintain a healthy weight. The program mirrors the experience of sitting down with a weight-loss counsellor. The web-based counsellor provides a structured program and resources to help set realistic goals and help you make lifestyle changes that will last a lifetime. You can also use the Healthy Weight Action Plan with your doctor or a dietitian to help you achieve a healthy weight.

“I applaud the positive and nonjudgmental tone the Foundation has achieved in the Healthy Weight Action Plan and its strong focus on healthier behaviours," says Dr. Arya Sharma, Obesity Research Chair at the University of Alberta.

Slow weight loss is best and most realistic for keeping the weight off long term; one to two pounds (1 Kg) a week is sufficient. A modest loss of as little as 5% of body weight can reduce your high blood pressure and total blood cholesterol.

For more information on the Heart&Stroke Healthy Weight Action Plan, go to