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Risk Factor Atlas

About the Risk Factor Atlas

  • Risk Factor AtlasThe Chronic Disease Risk Factor Atlas provides information on major chronic disease risk factors with national trends over time, age-specific prevalence estimates, and maps of the prevalence of risk factors in health regions across the country using data from the Statistics Canada Canadian Community Health Surveys (2005 and 2003).
  • Approximately 4 of 5 Canadians have at least one modifiable risk factor for chronic disease.
  • The risk factors for chronic disease tend to group together across the country. Overall, regions with high rates of obesity also have high rates of physical inactivity and inadequate fruit and vegetable consumption.

The Risk Factor Atlas is available only in PDF format. 
Please email us to request an electronic copy.


  • Smoking is the leading preventable cause of premature death in Canada.
  • The prevalence of smoking among adult men and women (aged 20 and over) is high in northern and rural regions, and lower in British Columbia and most major urban centres.
  • Smoking prevalence among Canadians has decreased from 1994 to 2005.
  • Smoking prevalence is highest among people aged 20-24.


  • High-risk alcohol use is associated with increased risks of over 60 chronic or acute conditions. These include cancer, gastrointestinal diseases, neurological disorders, cardiovascular disease (especially stroke) and, for pregnant women, negative impacts on the fetus.
  • Alcohol consumption has increased in Canada between 1995 and 2005 as measured by volume of sales of alcoholic beverages.
  • In 2004 the Canadian Addiction Survey conducted among people age 15 or more estimated that about 17% of drinkers were consuming alcohol in a hazardous manner based on the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT) score.
  • Heavy or high-risk drinking for the atlas is defined as current drinkers who reported drinking five or more drinks on one occasion, 12 or more times a year. In 2005, 28% of youth aged 12-19 and 30% of men and 12% of women aged 20 years and over reported drinking heavily.
  • The age group 20-24 has the highest prevalence of heavy drinking (consuming five or more drinks on one occasion) - 56% among men and 33% of women. The prevalence decreased with increasing age.
  • Among men, prevalence rates of heavy drinking were highest in the three Territories, and the Atlantic Provinces. Among women, the highest prevalence rates were in Nunavut, the Northwest Territories, Newfoundland and Labrador.


  • In addition to direct effects on the risk of developing cancer, coronary heart disease and stroke, diet influences the risk of many other conditions, such as hypertension, diabetes and obesity, which in turn are related to the risk of other chronic diseases.
  • Low consumption of fruits and vegetables (less than 5 servings per day) was associated with lower income, and other unhealthy behaviours such as cigarette smoking.
  • People in urban centres were more likely to consume at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables than people living in rural settings. This may be attributable to the wider availability and variety of fruits and vegetables and higher income levels to afford fruit and vegetables.
  • These geographic patterns of frequency of fruit and vegetable consumption in Canada also closely paralleled those of several important chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease.

Physical Inactivity

  • Physical inactivity impacts both physical and mental health and well-being and is considered to be a primary risk factor for obesity.
  • Less than half of the Canadian population participates in the minimal amount of leisure time physical activity required to obtain the health benefits, including a lower risk of developing chronic disease, of a physically active lifestyle.
  • Compared with the rest of Canada, the prevalence of physical inactivity is higher than the national average in the Atlantic region and lower than average in British Columbia.
  • Levels of physical inactivity increase with age, particularly for ages 75 years or more. Women are more physically inactive (50%) than men (45%) but for the middle years (35-64) the difference in prevalence was small. A pattern of higher physical inactivity among women was also observed among ages 15-19 and 20-24; the levels of physical activity were 38% and 43% respectively for these two age groups among women compared to 25% and 35% among men.


  • Obesity is a major public health problem since it contributes to the development and exacerbation of major chronic diseases in Canada, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, some cancers (e.g., colon cancer) and osteoarthritis. The self-reported prevalence of obesity in 2005 for Canada was 17% for men and 15% for women. The highest rates of obesity are in the northern regions of the country.
  • The large percentage of overweight or obese adolescents in all provinces is of particular concern. If nothing is done, many of these young people will become obese adults who will have lived with the physiological stresses associated with being overweight or obese since their childhood. The longer one is obese, the greater the health risks and the greater the likelihood of premature death.
  • The prevalence of obesity has nearly doubled in adults and tripled in children and youth over the past 25 years.
  • The percentage of Canadians who were obese increased with age. A higher proportion of men than women were obese except among ages 65 years and over where the opposite occurred.

The Risk Factor Atlas is available only in PDF format. 
Please email us to request an electronic copy.