Survey ranks Lower Mainland cities on health, wellness

Findings show obesity at 34 per cent in Fraser Valley, 22 per cent in Metro Vancouver

Cycling is one way to combine exercise with transportation and reduce the risk of chronic disease and obesity

Obesity is a much bigger problem in the Fraser Valley than in Metro Vancouver, according to one of many findings in a broad study of health in local communities.

The My Health My Community survey was released by health authorities Tuesday and it shows how each municipality in the Lower Mainland stacks up on multiple indicators of health and wellbeing measured in 2012 and 2013.

It found 34 per cent of Fraser Valley residents are obese, compared to 22 per cent in Metro Vancouver.

Obesity was highest – 30 per cent or more – in areas such as Powell River, Chilliwack, Langley City, Mission, Maple Ridge and Abbotsford, while it was below 20 per cent in Whistler, Vancouver, Richmond, Port Moody and Burnaby.

Obesity is a major risk factor for chronic disease onset and officials predict the data will shape strategies to help residents improve their lifestyle.

“The survey is like a blood-test for our communities,” said Fraser Health chief medical health officer Dr. Victoria Lee.

The data has already helped pinpoint where the biggest problem areas are for certain types of health risk.

Surrey has the Lower Mainland’s highest rates of diagnosed diabetes at about 11.5 per cent, thought to be in part because of the increased prevalence of diabetes in South Asians due to diet.

The survey showed smoking rates are highest in Hope at 22 per cent, followed by Langley City at 18 per cent – significantly above the average of 11 per cent in both Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley.

Hope also had the worst high blood pressure rates and had high numbers of residents reporting multiple chronic conditions.

Langley City, Richmond, Maple Ridge and Surrey scored worst in general health, while North Shore communities and Whistler scored best, beating the provincial average.

Mission, Maple Ridge and Langley had the highest rates of mood or anxiety disorders.

The findings also show how each city performs on various wellness measures, such as the amount of physical activity they get, consumption of fruits and vegetables, lengths of daily commutes and hours a day spent in front of screens.

Some of the data was previously released during the Metro Vancouver transit tax referendum.

Medical health officers at that time came out in support of the transit expansion, noting the evidence shows residents who walk, bike and take transit tend to be healthier and and less likely to be overweight or prone to chronic disease.

A map of Metro Vancouver included in the survey shows areas of the region with above-average car use.

“Residents in these areas are 33 per cent more likely to be overweight or obese, and 34 per cent less likely to walk 30-plus minutes a day,” it said.

The highest proportion of residents who mainly walk or cycle to run errands were reported in Vancouver, New Westminster, North Vancouver and Langley City, while the lowest rates were in Abbotsford, Mission, Coquitlam, Langley Township and Chilliwack.

Health officials say more physical activity and less time spent in cars can help ward off chronic disease, along with other lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking, eating healthy foods and drinking responsibly.

The study found that compact urban centres better support active transportation modes like walking and biking.

The survey also showed that when disaster strikes, you’re going to wish you’re on the rural Sunshine Coast. More than 40 per cent of residents there and in Sechelt or on Bowen Island reported having at least three days of supplies stockpiled for emergencies, compared to less than 25 per cent in Surrey, Vancouver, Coquitlam, Langley City and Whistler.

Detailed community profiles are posted on the survey’s website showing the ranking on 37 different indicators of health and wellbeing. They can be found at: https://www.myhealthmycommunity.org/Results/CommunityProfiles.aspx.