Alberta is hoping to reduce obesity in the province by increasing access to surgery, funding school programs for children and offering community programs for obese adults.

"Let us spend our health care dollars where we can really make a difference," said Dr. Arya Sharma, medical director of the Alberta Health Services Obesity Initiative.

"I see far more value in my own tax money going to prevent and treat obesity than continuing to pour endless resources and money into treating all of its many complications."

Obesity is the most pervasive, progressive and serious of chronic diseases facing the province, said Alberta Health. The province estimates one million Albertans are obese and another one million overweight. 

The disease is linked to 22 other chronic diseases, including up to 90 per cent of all Type 2 diabetes, up to 30 per cent of cancers, and 80 per cent of cardiovascular disease.

The five-year, $15.8 million Alberta Health Services Obesity Initiative will allow 1,500 more patients to access bariatric surgery over the next few years.

While 90,000 Albertans are obese enough to quality for bariatric surgery, only 261 patients underwent the procedure in 2009.

Bariatric surgery reduces the capacity of the stomach so less food is eaten.

The initiative will also fund school-based programs designed to address the rising rates of obesity among children. Community-based programs will target adults.

Saying people simply need to eat less and move more isn't enough; obese patients are often facing socio-economic barriers as well as underlying physical and mental health issues, Sharma said. 

The province estimates obesity costs more than $1.4 billion annually in terms of reduced quality of life, loss of workforce productivity and cost to the health care system.