Toronto Star

September 17, 1999

`Canadians are among the healthiest people in the world. However, this good health is not enjoyed equally by everyone.' - Federal-provincial report `Toward A Health Future'

Canadians healthier but stress hits young

Low self-esteem blamed as report gives clean bill of health to some

By William Walker
Toronto Star Ottawa Bureau

OTTAWA - Canadians are living longer than ever before and are confident about the state of their own health, says a sweeping new report by federal and provincial governments.

But young Canadians are showing more signs of stress and there is a widening gap between how middle- and high-income Canadians view their own health and how poor Canadians believe they fare, according to the 224-page report Toward A Health Future.

Canadians are living longer, smoking less, contracting the AIDS virus through sexual contact less frequently, and killing themselves or others less often through impaired driving.

However, Canadians, particularly men, are getting fatter and exercising less.

``Canadians are among the healthiest people in the world,'' says the report, released yesterday. ``However, this good health is not enjoyed equally by everyone.''

In particular, young Canadians suffer growing symptoms of stress. This is evident through practices such as unprotected sex, teen pregnancies, heavy smoking, dropping out of school and suicide.

`Self-esteem among youth is a very important issue and we think that low self-esteem probably contributes to smoking and teenage pregnancy and dropping out of school.'
- Dr. Shaun Peck, British Columbia health department

``Self-esteem among youth is a very important issue and we think that low self-esteem probably contributes to smoking and teenage pregnancy and dropping out of school,'' said Dr. Shaun Peck of the British Columbia health department, a contributor to the report.

``Dropping out of school early is a very harmful thing for their future health. If someone drops out early, chances are they won't get such good employment and then they end up less healthy because there's a link between income and health.''

Depression was most common among 18- and 19-year-olds. That is a marked departure from earlier studies that showed older people were more prone to depression.

Young Canadians aged 18 and 19 were also most likely to report high stress levels - 37 per cent - compared to the national rate of 26 per cent.

The report says youth stress appears to be linked to high unemployment and pressure to do well in school.

Life expectancy in Canada has reached a record high: 75.7 years for men and 81.4 years for women. The male-female gap in life expectancy has narrowed from 7.5 years in 1978 to 5.7 years in 1996.

One-quarter of Canadians rated their own health status as excellent, as did 25 per cent of Ontarians. Confidence was highest in Quebec where 27 per cent rated themselves in excellent health, and lowest in Saskatchewan where 17 per cent rated excellent.

In 1985, 22 per cent of men were overweight, compared to 34 per cent in 1996. For women, 14 per cent were overweight in 1985 compared to 23 per cent in 1996.

The problem was most pronounced in people aged 45 to 64 years - 58 per cent of men in that category are overweight.

The report, culled from government studies and statistics, paints an over-all picture of improving health for Canadians.

But it is less rosy an outlook for Canada's poor, for children, for youth and for aboriginal people - those groups suffer from poorer health than other Canadians.

``This report concludes there is a persistent gap in health status between Canadians with high income and those with low incomes,'' it says.

Federal Health Minister Allan Rock said the poverty gap must be a concern for all governments and not just on the health-care front.

``The gap between the haves and the have-nots is widening and it's showing up in their health status,'' Rock told a press conference.

He also noted that children, youth and aboriginal Canadians have been ``hardest hit'' by poorer health status: the number of children living in poverty has increased, youth smoking is on the rise and aboriginal communities suffer continued poor health.

The report measures how much provinces and territories are spending: Ontario ranks fourth in spending $2,624 per person each year on health care, but the total ranks 10th as a percentage of the province's Gross Domestic Product.

The report also proves that it is not how much you spend that counts: the United States ranks first in industrialized countries in health spending but last in life expectancy, while Japan ranks third-last in spending but has the longest life expectancy.

Canada ranks as the fourth-biggest spender - at almost $80 billion a year - and third in terms of per-capita spending, at $2,095. It ranks second in terms of life expectancy.

With files from Canadian Press

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