Just over 68 per cent of the population falls into those categories, compared to 52 per cent nationally.
Overweight is defined as a body mass index of 25 and over, while obese is over 30. Broken down, the South Shore population has 37.5 per cent of the population that is overweight, while 30.8 per cent of the population is obese.
This presents challenges in both dealing with patients as they come through the doors, and finding ways to lower the obesity rates. However on both sides of the equation there is plenty of work being done.
Lynn Farrell is the director of acute care for the South Shore District Health Authority. Her role is to look after everything that deals with patients in the beds at the hospitals. When it comes to patient, anyone coming through the doors of a hospital can expect the same level of safe and effective care, she says. In dealing with larger patients, it just takes a bit more planning.
It is well known that as BMI increases, the risk of cardiovascular issues also increases. Common issues are strokes, heart attacks, high blood pressure and diabetes. It also creates a few unique problems in the extreme cases, such as skin disorders. As the skin stretches it can easily be damaged if not handled properly or be difficult to clean, so health care providers need to keep that in mind.
As BMI increases, it can also present mobility issues for the patients, says Farrell. It means they may need more assistance with daily living. This needs to be done properly, otherwise there is a risk of injury to the patient and the staff member trying to treat them.
Preventing injuries in staff takes a bit of planning, but even that isn't a whole lot different than dealing with any other patient. When the patient comes to the hospital, a plan of care is created that includes any special handling needs.
Most front line staff have had courses in school on how to properly move a patient. South Shore Health also has an occupational health nurse to teach proper techniques.
Building design is something that also needs to be looked at for larger patients. Older buildings, even South Shore Regional which is 24 years old, were not designed to accommodate the extremely obese, also called bariatric patients.
"The care methods, equipment and environment that we work in really doesn't meet the need for bariatric patients," says Farrell.
Queens General Hospital is the oldest hospital in the district, and many of the rooms are smaller.
However the new medical wing will be better designed to accommodate larger patients. Two rooms in the wing are designed specifically for bariatric patients. The changes to these rooms are not radical from other rooms either.
"Simple things like the width of the doors, and bigger chairs for people to sit in," she says. "It goes from the large Johnny shirt to the bariatric bed, and everything in between"
Dr. Linda Earle is a public health medical officer, and looks at the prevention side of the equation. The high numbers are concerning, but it isn't something that came about overnight, and neither will the solution.
"We need to figure out an approach to try and positively impact the health of our population," she says.
Obesity is just one of the issues they are working on combatting. Along with obesity, Nova Scotia also has some of the highest rates for other chronic diseases compared to the rest of the country.
Many of these, including obesity, can be linked to unhealthy eating and a sedentary lifestyle. However those are not the only risk factors, and everything is taken into consideration when developing a plan.
Economic, environmental, and social parts of our society play a large role. Things like the advertising bombarding children with unhealthy foods can influence choices. Working conditions, healthy pregnancy and early childhood development can also play a factor.
While the causes may be known, coming up with a solution to combat them is a very complex problem. There is no one-fix solution that will work everywhere either.
"It's not just as easy as balancing calories and exercise. We know there are many more factors that influence rates of chronic disease," she says.
"Unfortunately health conditions are seen as being up to the individual’s choice and behaviour. The reality is the choices we can make are influenced by what is around us."
In a nutshell, the unhealthy choices are the easy choices, she says, which need to be reversed.
"It's a big, long term approach that we need to have in public health and communities," says Dr. Earle.
Looking at prevention can start simple, like the daily recommendations of fruit and vegetable servings. That then needs to be given to and supported by the community. South Shore Health, for example, has stated their intent to create a policy to promote healthy eating within their facilities.
Work is also being done with the municipalities, school boards, and community groups to create a better environment and promote active communities.
Bridgewater is creating active transportation around a sustainable community model with their bike lanes that are being put in throughout the town. This in turn makes it easier for people to bike around the community without as much worry about accidents.
Municipalities are also creating healthy-food policies in recreational settings. Two in Lunenburg County have already adopted policies.
This is just scratching the surface though, says Dr. Earle. It will take time for the strategies to see results.
"It is such a broad issue and there are so many ways of looking at what we can do," she says.