Thursday, May 28, 2009

Diet: We are Eating Less so Why Aren't we Losing?

Last year, the average number of calories consumed per day dropped 131 calories from 2001

Marina Jiménez

Despite the national obesity epidemic, Canadians are eating less. According to Statistics Canada data released yesterday, we consume an average of 2,382 calories per day – a decline of 131 calories since the peak, recorded in 2001.

The new data reflects a shift in diet, with Canadians eating more cereals, berries, yogurts, processed and fresh fruits, asparagus and poultry meat, and less oils, red meats and soft drinks.

Trish McAlaster/The Globe and Mail

Obesity experts applaud the trend, noting that 100 extra calories a day can increase weight by 10 extra pounds in a year.

However, Dr. David Lau says Canadians still eat too much – especially in light of our increasingly sedentary lifestyle.

“We rely on wheels for transport instead of our feet,” says Dr. Lau, a professor at the University of Calgary and president of Obesity Canada, a not-for-profit organization. “This is especially true in the countryside, where obesity is more of a problem than it is in big cities.”

Most healthy men consume about 2,500 calories a day, while women consume between 1,800 and 2,000. However, if you don't exercise or aren't physically active, you need fewer calories to maintain the same weight.

Half the adult population is overweight, said Dr. Lau, and one in 10 adolescents is obese.

The optimistic news is the change in our diet. Statistics Canada data shows that the per-capita consumption of soft drinks fell to 73.2 litres per person per year in 2008, from 76.4 litres the previous year. People are also eating less oils and fats, including butter, salad oils, shortening and margarine.

People are eating more fruit, especially blueberries and cranberries, which have increased by 14 per cent and 34 per cent respectively, compared to 2007. Breakfast cereals are also more popular, with people eating an average of 4.1 kg a year – an increase of 38 per cent since 1988.

Milk has gone out of fashion, a trend which began two decades ago and one which could have negative implications for bone health. Last year Canadians drank only 57.7 litres of milk per person per year, compared to 70 litres in 1988. Consumption of ice cream dropped by 14 per cent compared to 2007, though cheese remains a favourite, and so does refined sugar.

Dr. Lau notes that when new Canadians adopt the “Western” lifestyle, they typically gain weight. Asians are more likely than Caucasians to have abdominal fat, which leads to heart disease and diabetes. Experts advise patients to measure body fat by waist circumference.