Canada is Becoming Progressively More Obese. Can Drugs Like Ozempic Help to Reverse This Trend?
Nobody would have guessed that a medication designed to decrease hemoglobin A1C (an indicator of blood sugar control in diabetics) would take the world by storm in 2020 as the most popular weight loss drug, but that’s what happened. You’ve probably heard of Ozempic, a medication originally developed to improve blood sugar control in patients with diabetes. Now, it’s being prescribed as a tool to combat obesity in people with and without diabetes.
Read more about how medications like Ozempic, in combination with bariatric surgery, may play a crucial role in addressing obesity trends in Canada.
Obesity in Canada: Some Trends
Obesity is a global problem, reaching epidemic proportions in many countries, including Canada. Obesity has become such a problem in Canada that an estimated 27.2% of the population qualifies as obese, and this trend has been increasing every year. The staggering impact of obesity on the citizens of Canada and the country as a whole cannot be understated.
Eleven billion dollars. That’s how much money yearly obesity costs Canadians. The impacts of obesity on overall health can be seen in the increased prevalence of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer among Canadians. Obesity can significantly increase the risk of developing some of these leading causes of death, many of which are preventable. Not only does obesity carry long-term consequences, but it also carries short-term risks.
If you are obese and become sick with COVID-19, you are 60% more likely to be admitted to a hospital compared with a person who has a healthy body mass index (BMI). Unfortunately, nearly all poor outcomes with COVID-19 are worse for those who are obese. This includes the risk of admission to the intensive care unit (ICU), assistance with breathing, which requires intubation, and death.
With the outcomes of obesity poor in so many aspects of health and the costs to society so high, there’s been a lot of attention from healthcare officials and researchers on how Canada can improve obesity rates. One relatively new choice for obese patients looking for a tool to aid in weight management is a medication class called GLP-1 agonists, more famously known as Ozempic or medications that work like Ozempic.
The Obesity Rate Based on BMI Has Increased Since 2005
Globally, the trend in obesity rates has not been a favorable one. Canada specifically has seen a continuous increase in the percentage of the population classified as obese. At 22.5% of the population in 2005, Canada has now surpassed the 27% mark with obese individuals in 2018, a trend that’s economically devastating and not sustainable.
Up to 12% of Canada’s annual total health expenditure is due to obesity and other obesity-related health conditions, putting a strain on the healthcare system and government funding. Finding a cost-effective solution to battle obesity in Canada is a top priority for many healthcare professionals and government officials alike.
Obesity Affects Males and Females, Although More Prevalent Among Males
Historically, in Canada, males have been more likely to develop obesity compared to females. Over the last 20 years, the gap between males and females with obesity has been closing, with the rate of women classifying as obese steadily catching up to males. Genetics continues to be an area of study for those looking to unlock the differences in sex and gender and the effect that might have on obesity. The struggle to lose weight for many Canadians is frustrating. Thankfully, with pharmaceutical and surgical advancements, a permanent, safe weight loss solution is easier than ever.
The Role of Age in Obesity Rates
In countries like Canada, adolescent and childhood obesity continues to be problematic, with increasing rates of obesity reaching nearly a quarter of children and adolescents. Shockingly, the rates of childhood obesity in Canada have tripled over the last 20 years.
As the population ages, so does the risk of developing obesity. In a recent study, the age group in Canada that was most affected by obesity was the group of 60-69-year-olds. This population had an obesity rate of 32.3%, which means that three out of every 10 individuals are classified as obese in this age group. The ages that saw the most dramatic increase in obesity over the last 15 years were those over 40, where almost 40% of individuals are now classified as obese.
Obesity doesn’t discriminate based on age, and it’s clear from epidemiologic data that the condition is affecting more and younger Canadians every year.
Geography and Obesity in Canada
Geographically, obesity affects Canada from coast to coast. Some provinces, however, have experienced a greater increase in the rates of obesity compared to others over the last 20 years. In 2005, four provinces had an obesity rate of less than 25%, considered to be the lowest (or best). In 2018, however, only one province had an obesity rate below 25% (British Columbia). Over a 14-year study period, Quebec and Alberta had the highest increase in obesity rates, both now sitting near an obesity rate of over 30%. The unhealthiest locations in Canada were Newfoundland and Labrador, having the highest obesity rates at a staggering 40% of the provincial population.
Income, Employment, and Education
Socioeconomic status has largely been associated with obesity across developed nations, and Canada is no exception. Except for a few small pockets in Alberta, obesity tends to affect those who have a lower education, are underemployed, and are at the lower end of the tax bracket. This could be due to a variety of factors, including poor health literacy, inadequate access to preventative medicine, and the scarcity of resources available in poorer communities for healthier choices.
Can Drugs Like Ozempic (Semaglutide) Help to Reduce Obesity Rates in Canada?
Ozempic and similar medications, created to treat type two diabetes, have been gaining popularity for their effect in helping people lose weight. Everyone from celebrities to politicians and even athletes has been touting the benefits of the once-weekly administrations of GLP-1 agonists like Ozempic.
Often given as a once-weekly injection under the skin, Ozempic has shown impressive results in helping people lose weight. The medication is especially helpful in preventing patients from gaining back the weight they have lost after surgery.
GLP-1 agonists work through a complex mechanism that helps “trick” the body into feeling fuller faster and for a longer time. This leads to an overall reduction in calories consumed by patients and a significant reduction in episodes of overeating.
Semaglutide Shortages in Canada
The combination of COVID-19 and a high demand for medications like Ozempic led to a worldwide shortage of the medication. So much so that diabetic patients who relied on the medication sometimes had to choose alternative methods of lowering their blood sugar. Drug manufacturers didn’t foresee how wildly popular Ozempic would become for obese patients without diabetes and produced enough based on demand for its diabetic population.
Thankfully, manufacturers have increased the production of Ozempic and other medications that work similarly. Wegovy is the new brand of semaglutide that’s made specifically for weight loss. It’s not used for diabetes, so the supply issues have been largely resolved. There’s even an oral option instead of once-weekly injections called Rybelsus. This oral form of semaglutide offers similar results and could be a more convenient choice for most patients.
While medications like Semaglutide and similar medications are more widely available than before, bariatric surgery remains the gold standard medical treatment for significant, long-term weight loss.
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