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This Annual Report Card on Canadians Health is archived for historical purposes only. Note that the statistics and information are current as of the original release date.


EMBARGOED UNTIL 10 AM EST February 10, 2005

TORONTO:The Heart and Stroke Foundations Annual Report Card on Canadians Health dispels the popular myth that living in the country or suburbs is better for your heart health. The Foundations first-ever report on urban versus non-urban living clearly shows that car-dependent Canadians get far less physical activity and are at increased heart health. The Foundations first-ever report on urban versus non-urban living clearly shows that car-dependent Canadians get far less physical activity and are at increased risk of being overweight or obese.

Simply put, the suburban dream has gone sour.

The evidence is conclusive: our car-dependent habits are killing us. We have to start focusing on healthy lifestyle habits to replace our drive-through mentality, says Dr. Anthony Graham, Heart and Stroke Foundations spokesperson. Yet 80% of Canadians believe city living and its high pressure, fast-paced lifestyle is detrimental to your health.

According to the Foundation, for people in the suburbs, smaller towns and rural areas, this false sense of security could be putting them at higher risk for heart disease and stroke than their city dweller counterparts. Foundation research shows that city-dwellers are twice as likely to walk, bike or take public transit to get to work as their non-urban counterparts. In addition, more city-dwellers walk or bike to do daily chores.

This Report Card is a wake-up call for all Canadians, especially those living outside major urban centres, to take a look at their communities and their lifestyles, explains Dr. Graham. Research has demonstrated that routine physical activity is one factor that can be linked to the lower rate of obesity observed in major urban centres.

Heart and Stroke Foundation 2005 Report Card

Urban vs. Non-urban Canadians

Percent of population1

Major Urban Centres

Rest of Canada

Find their community convenient to walk or bike in

87% (A)

60% (C-)

Walk or bike to do daily chores

77% (B+)

60% (C-)

At a healthy weight2

50% (D-)

44% (F)

Primary means of getting to work is by walking, biking or taking public transit

34% (F)

18% (F)

[1] Data from Heart and Stroke Foundation Survey of 1,082 Canadians aged 1865, conducted in December 2004; margin of error is +/-3%, 19 times out of 20

2 Source: Statistics Canada, 2003; for Canadians aged 18 and over, excluding pregnant women.

Last years Heart and Stroke Foundation Report Card on Canadians Health: Fat Is the New Tobacco looked at the growing problem of being overweight and obese, calling on government and industry to make healthier food choices more accessible for Canadians. This years Report Card looks at the other half of the unhealthy weight issue physical activity.

It is no coincidence that as our physical activity levels decline, obesity rates soar. Almost 50% of Canadian adults and 37% of Canadian children are now either overweight or obese.

The Foundation points out that each additional kilometre walked per day reduces the likelihood of becoming obese by nearly 5%, while each hour per day spent in a car increases the likelihood of becoming obese by 6%. These percentages add up quickly, given the amount of time commuters spend in cars every day. No one should take them lightly, says Dr. Graham.

Unhealthy Planning

The Heart and Stroke Foundation recommends Canadians be physically active at least 30 minutes each day. According to research by Dr. Larry Frank, member of the Heart and Stroke Foundations Health Promotion and Policy Advisory Committee, individuals living in moderate-to-high density neighbourhoods that have community and commercial services within walking distance of where they live, are 2.4 times more likely to meet this 30-minute daily minimum.

Unfortunately, non-metropolitan areas often contain disincentives to physical activity. In fact, residents are exposed daily to the effects of heart-unhealthy planning, says Heart and Stroke Foundation researcher, Dr. Robert Ross. Retail services outside of urban areas are designed with automobile access as a priority. Sidewalks and cycle lanes are conspicuous by their absence, making suburban and rural-dwelling Canadians prisoners to their cars.

A 2000 survey of Canadian municipalities found larger communities are more likely than smaller ones to have paths and trails that promote walking or biking and regulations that require safe pedestrian and bicycle routes when developing new areas.

Municipal Resources for Walking and Biking

Percent of Canadian Municipalities Reporting they

Size of Community (Population)

Less than 10,000

10,000 99,999

100,000 and over

Supply information on how to become more active in daily life




Have bike lanes on road




Have off-road trails and paths that prohibit motorized vehicles




Have trails and paths linked to form a network




Require safe pedestrian and bicycle routes when developing new areas




Have a formal plan for bicycling and walking




Source: 2000 Survey of Canadian Municipalities, Canadian Fitness and Lifestyle Research Institute

This Report Card calls on Canadians, especially in non-urban areas, to be more conscious of their environments and car-dependent habits. The Foundation is working with national health organizations to encourage governments to commit greater resources to promoting healthy active lifestyles and communities that support them. The Foundation is also funding research on the social and environmental aspects of obesity, including studies of how community design influences physical activity and health.

The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Nova Scotia provides one example of leadership on this issue. Their recent report entitled, The Cost of Physical Inactivity in Halifax Regional Municipality documents the connection between health and planning and highlights the potential cost savings - in terms of lives, dollars and productivity - of building healthy, active communities.

Governments need to recognize that approaches to community design that make it possible, and better yet rational, to walk to destinations has become a health policy issue thats critical to protecting public health, says Dr. Frank, Associate Professor and Bombardier Chair at the University of British Columbia. The way we design our communities has a real impact on our health.

The Heart and Stroke Foundations call to action:


  • The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada recommends that the federal government allocate at least 7% of transportation infrastructure funds to active transportation projects and infrastructure (e.g., walking trails, sidewalks, bike paths).

  • Both the federal and provincial governments should work with health organizations to develop effective social marketing campaigns that encourage Canadians to become more physically active.


  • Fund social infrastructure and active transportation projects that facilitate active living.

  • Encourage mixed use developments that enable people to walk or bike to a variety of shops and services in their neighborhoods.
  • Encourage forms of urban planning that lead to more new neighborhoods and developments in Canada that encourage active living.


  • Make physical activity an integral part of your everyday life. Take every opportunity during the course of the day to walk more; take the stairs, park your car further, get off one bus stop earlier. All these incremental opportunities add up. This also helps overcome the no time, too busy challenge.

  • Get involved! The Heart and Stroke Foundation encourages all Canadians to take action and become advocates to make their communities activity friendly. Make sure your community supports active living, and speak up about urban design, transit, traffic and land-use issues.

Visit our Web site at for advocacy tools and active living information.

The Heart and Stroke Foundation ( is a leading funder of heart and stroke research in Canada. Our mission is to improve the health of Canadians by preventing and reducing disability and death from heart disease and stroke through research, health promotion and advocacy.

For more information contact:

Elissa Freeman 416.489.7111 ext. 316 or 416.565.5605

Sharon Edwards 416.489.7111 ext. 455 or 416.305.1016

For provincial media contacts, please see contact us at