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Northwestern Ont. obesity rate 10% more than province

Public health officials in northwestern Ontario say the region's high rate of obesity — tipping the scales at 60 per cent of the population — is a concern.
Thunder Bay resident George Saarinen has fought with obesity on a personal level and says he thinks public health officials are trying their best to deal with the issue, as getting the word out about eating well and exercising is important. (Facebook)

Public health officials in northwestern Ontario say the region's high rate of obesity — tipping the scales at 60 per cent of the population — is a concern.

That's almost 10 per cent higher than the provincial average.

Victoria Holla, a public health nutritionist with the Thunder Bay District Health Unit, said they are trying to help people make it easier to live healthier lives.

“We have programs to make healthy choices available in recreation centres,” she said. “[There are] things like offering bike rodeo and bike lanes in the city.”

Living a healthier life isn’t just about losing weight, she added, but about improving people's health overall.

"A lot of people these days are in the position where they don't have full-time jobs,” Holla continued.

“They have contract [work], they have casual [work], so they may be working two or three jobs, and they don't have a chance to cook nutritiously. They'll just grab something on the go."

'Mass execution of people'

In northwestern Ontario, the rate of people who are overweight and obese is about 60 per cent. (iStock)

Thunder Bay resident George Saarinen knows the challenges of being overweight, and the struggle to eat more healthfully while surrounded by unhealthy fast food options.

“The ads on TV, everything is focused on the food,” he said.

“The fast food 'oh, how good it is and how great it is,'… it's a mass execution of people. It's atrocious.”

Saarinen’s weight eventually ballooned to 429 pounds, “which surprised the hell out of me,” he said, “'cause I couldn't weigh myself on a normal scale anymore.”

Through bariatric surgery, and changes to his diet and lifestyle, a lot of that weight has come off.

Saarinen said getting the word out about eating well and exercising is important.

He also said he believes kids are also a lot less active these days.

Holla noted there are many factors involved in sustaining people’s health.

She said communities need to have healthy food available and affordable, have infrastructure for active living, and have health-focussed policies and support from the community.

The Thunder Bay Health Unit's research shows two main challenges, as identified by parents: access to and affordability of healthy food.

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