“These numbers have been going up for years,” said Stinson-Burt, a dietician with Nutritionally Your Best in Corner Brook.
She was referring to a study out of the University of British Columbia that provides a comprehensive look at obesity rates across the country. The Atlantic provinces joined Nunavut and the Northwest Territories as the areas had the highest obesity rates between 2000 and 2011.
While she prefers not to focus on body size, Stinson-Burt said it can be reflective of what’s going on.
She thinks people are hearing the message that they need to eat healthier and exercise to prevent obesity, but said there is something happening that’s preventing or making this difficult.
“One of the most convincing theories is that we live in what’s called an obesogenic environment,” she said. “The environment we’ve created as a society facilitates people in being obese rather than being healthy.”
Stinson-Burt said adults spend long days sitting at work on computers and kids are sitting around with electronic devices not being active.
Food portion sizes have also increased tremendously.
The dietician recently compared the sizes of three plates — one came from the 1970s, one from the 1990s and the third from a new set of dishes.
“Each plate had increased by about two inches in diameter over that period of time.”
Stinson-Burt also said it’s not just that the plate you use has gotten bigger — and people tend to fill them — but also the size of the food we eat has increased, from a loaf of bread right down to the good foods like apples and bananas.
“One serving in Canada’s Food Guide of, say, a banana would fit in about half of a normal banana, just because bananas have gotten bigger.” The average apple is equivalent to two servings, and a chicken breast is about three times the size of a meat serving, she added.
“The environment we’ve created as a society facilitates people in being obese rather than being healthy.” - Kim Stinson-Burt, Corner Brook dietician
When it comes to how Newfoundland fares in comparison to the rest of the country, Stinson-Burt said the province is unique in both strengths and challenges. The population is still quite physically active through living a traditional lifestyle of hunting and fishing.
But one of the biggest challenges comes through sodium intake.
“The population of Newfoundland has been sort of conditioned to have a high intake of sodium, just from traditional eating habits where things were preserved with salt.”
Her concern is that unhealthy eating is connected to future health problems like heart disease and high blood pressure. These health issues are now appearing at an earlier age, and Stinson-Burt is already seeing seven- and eight-year-olds with high blood pressure.
One problem with the situation is there’s not much research to show what will happen as these children age.
To overcome obesity, Stinson-Burt said good healthy eating habits need to be established in childhood in order to have a lifetime benefit.
“I think most people know that fruits and vegetables are better for them than Pepsi and chips, but making that choice the easy choice is what’s important.”
She said the price of food, like milk, has gone up and for young families with two or three kids purchasing milk can be challenging.
“That’s one thing from a legislative point of view, making healthy food more affordable is very important.”
But for the individual, the best advice she offers is to be mindful of portion sizes and get in as much physical activity as possible.