Sudbury·In Depth

Sudbury second-most obese city in Canada: Stats Can

Greater Sudbury is growing—and perhaps not for the better. The most recent numbers from Statistics Canada indicate that Sudbury is now the second-most obese city in Canada, after Saint John, New Brunswick.

About 1 in 3 adults in Greater Sudbury now considered obese

People in Sudbury still drink more, smoke more, and are more obese than the rest of the province. (iStock)
Some startling numbers... one in three people in Sudbury are considered obese by Statistics Canada. The CBC's Jessica Pope has been exploring the issue of obesity. This is the first installment in a series on the subject.

Greater Sudbury is growing—and perhaps not for the better. 

The most recent numbers from Statistics Canada indicate that Sudbury is now the second-most obese city of its kind in Canada, after Saint John, New Brunswick. 

According to the findings, 33.8 per cent of people in Greater Sudbury are obese, which is about 9 per cent higher than the current national average.     

And, according to the latest Vital Signs report for Sudbury, the rate of obesity among adults in Sudbury has gone up 10.5 per cent since 2003. 

Those numbers did not surprise Norm Gervais. He has owned a medical equipment supply store in Sudbury for 16 years.
Norm Gervais has owned a medical supply equipment store in Sudbury for 16 years. He said in that time, an increasing share of his business has been helping clients with obesity-related mobility problems. (Jessica Pope)

"I think the most notable change [in that time] is the fact that our products are getting larger. We're dispensing larger and larger pieces of equipment," he said. 

"In the early years, a 16 inch wheelchair [seat width] was very common. Now the most common sizes are 18, 20, 22, 24-inch wide wheelchairs. The seat width has grown with our population."

Gervais said that demand for other pieces of mobility equipment in a larger size or weight capacity has also gone up in the last few years.

"For example, the industry standard [for overhead lift systems] is about 440 pounds of lifting capacity, but we're selling and seeing more use of the thousand-pound lift devices than ever before."

Obesity challenges at Sudbury hospital

David McNeil is the Vice President of Clinical Programs and the Chief Nursing Officer at Health Sciences North.

He said in the last two decades, more patients have had trouble with mobility due to obesity. For the safety of patients and staff, the hospital has invested in special equipment over the years. 
David McNeil, Vice President of Clinical Programs and the Chief Nursing Officer at Health Sciences North. (

"Years ago, we might have had to talk to our maintenance or building services people to actually put something together for us," he said. "Today, we have specialized beds and specialized lifts that provide assistance to manage these patients."

McNeil said while the hospital is able to cope with mobility challenges due to obesity, problems sometimes arise for patients who need care after discharge. 

"There isn't the assisted living facilities that might have the capacity to manage bariatric patients, nor in our retirement homes, and in some cases, long-term care facilities," he said. 

What Gervais and McNeil have been seeing in Sudbury is a part of what researchers are observing across the country. 

A recent study published in the the Canadian Medical Association Journal finds that obesity rates among adults in Canada went up 200 per cent between 1985 and 2011.

And according to the same study, there has been an explosion in the percentage of people reporting very high Body Mass Index numbers.

According to the study, the highest weight category, called "Class III" obesity with a BMI of 40 or higher, climbed 433 per cent. 

Handi-transit upgrades

While it seems no numbers are kept on obesity classes in Greater Sudbury, there are some signs that more people are reaching the highest category. 

Sudbury's Handi-Transit fleet of buses now features hydraulic lifts with the highest available weight rating.
Robert Gauthier, manager of transit operations for Greater Sudbury. (Jessica Pope)

Robert Gauthier is the manager of transit operations for Greater Sudbury.

He said the lifts were upgraded a few years ago because they were breaking too much. 

"The capacity for the lifts was 800 pounds, which we met or closely met often with the chair and person combination, which caused a lot of damage to the ramps," he said. "[Now], all the buses have the ramps that hold the most weight [currently possible]... which is a thousand pounds."

Gauthier says with a posted weight limit of 800 pounds, and an actual lifting capacity of 1000 pounds, Sudbury's HandiTransit ramps aren't breaking very much any more.

For more on Greater Sudbury's obesity problem and what's being done to try to change it, tune in to CBC Sudbury's show Morning North with host Markus Schwabe all week at 7:10 a.m. 


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