06/21/2011 03:18 EDT | Updated 08/21/2011 05:12 EDT

High Blood Pressure, Stress, Soaring In Canada: StatsCan

THE CANADIAN PRESS -- TORONTO - Six in 10 Canadians report they're in "very good" or "excellent" health, but high blood pressure and stress are concerns for an increasing number of people, a new snapshot of the nation's health indicates.

The 2010 Canadian Community Health Survey released Tuesday from Statistics Canada provides data on a variety of indicators gathered through interviews with about 65,000 people across the country.

The report found 17 per cent of respondents aged 12 and over said they have been diagnosed with high blood pressure -- a rate that has seen a steady increase over the last decade.

"For the first time since these data have been collected by the survey, men and women reported the same rate of hypertension," the report said.

"Prior to 2010, women were more likely than men to report that they had been diagnosed with high blood pressure."

The likelihood of having high blood pressure increases with age. If it isn't controlled, it can become a risk factor for heart attack and stroke.

The survey indicated that one-third of respondents who were obese reported having high blood pressure, compared with 15 per cent of those who were not obese.

Meanwhile, pressure of a different kind appears to be an issue for a growing number of Canadians.

Twenty-four per cent of respondents aged 15 and over said that most days are extremely or quite stressful -- up from 22 per cent in 2008.

"Women were more likely to report stress, particularly in younger age groups. Overall, one-quarter of women reported that most days were quite or extremely stressful, compared with 22 per cent of males," the report said.

The 35-to-54 age group appears particularly vulnerable. Daily stress rates were highest in this age category, with about 30 per cent reporting stress.

In terms of accessing care, 15 per cent of those aged 12 and over said they don't have a regular medical doctor, but of this group, 82 per cent said they have a usual place to go for medical care such as a walk-in clinic.

The ongoing survey collects information from Canadians on more than 30 health indicators, including body mass index based on height and weight calculations.

"When you look at obesity and overweight combined, we're talking for the first time, more than half the population is classified as this according to the BMI," survey analyst Ed Rama said from Ottawa.

"So we're at 52 per cent for obesity and overweight combined in the country, and we've never hit that high of a mark."

The survey found 21 per cent of the population aged 12 and over reported smoking either every day or occasionally.

From 2008 to 2010, there was a one percentage point rise in the number of males who reported they smoked either daily or occasionally, up to 24 per cent. But the number fell for females 12 and over from 19 per cent to 17 per cent.

The percentage of teen smokers aged 16 to 19 decreased from 29 per cent in 2001 to 20 per cent in 2005, and has remained relatively stable since.

Rama highlighted some promising findings on the smoking rates for young twentysomethings.

"We look at whether people have started smoking by the age of 20, and that tends to be an indicator of future smoking rates," he said.

"Fifty-seven per cent of women age 20 to 24 hadn't smoked yet, and that's up considerably from 2003 when it was 41 per cent."

"And the increase has also been significant for males -- not as much -- but 45 per cent in 2010 have never smoked between the ages of 20 and 24, and that's up from 37 per cent in 2003."

Rama said that for the first time since 2001, the survey found that fruit and vegetable consumption declined. About 43 per cent of respondents aged 12 and older reported they consumed fruit and vegetables five or more times each day -- down about three percentage points from 2009.

"We've looked at the CPI -- consumer price index -- and we looked at the fruit and vegetable basket in particular, and the price of fruit and vegetables increased from January 2010 to January 2011, which is the period we also collected this data for, so there could be some relationship there," he observed.

Women in all groups were more likely to consume fruit and vegetables than males, he said.

"Almost half of all women in Canada followed this consumption pattern, compared to only 36 per cent of males," he said.

"Interestingly, when you look at it by age groups, a much greater percentage of young males age 12 to 19 -- almost 48 per cent -- they consumed fruit and vegetables five times or more a day, and at a much higher percentage than males 20 and over.

"That could have an effect of basically young men still eating at home, as opposed to moving out on their own and having the Kraft Dinner diet."

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version said the 35-50 age group appears particularly vulnerable to stress. It is the 35-54 age group.