Is there some sort of correlative relationship between the health of a population and the condition of its economy?
We’ve known, for decades, that New Brunswick is becoming increasingly geriatric. Now, it seems, we’re also getting sicker, and in ways that are not exclusively linked to the ravages of aging.
A stern and alarming report from the New Brunswick Health Council concludes that this province “ranks last among. . .ten. . .on the percentage of the population that perceives their general health or their mental health as ‘very good’ or ‘excellent’. As for having pain or discomfort preventing activities, it ranks nine out of 10.”
Adds the Council’s CEO Stéphane Robichaud: “The proportion of the population with a chronic condition is growing and chronic conditions are appearing in younger age groups. The current trend is that a growing proportion of people are developing additional conditions as they age. The demographic trends have not taken the system by surprise; they have been expected and should have been better taken into account during planning efforts.”
Certainly, there’s a great deal of truth in this. But aging demographics do not entirely explain why health problems are cropping up with morbid persistence in ever-younger people in the province. Nor is it clear how a health care system that’s more concerned with palliation than prevention can fight the trend.
Recent research by Statistic Canada shows that the incidence of smoking in New Brunswick is the third highest among provinces in Canada – 20.9 per cent, just behind Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia.
A separate study by the numbers-crunching agency shows that as a percentage of the population, New Brunswickers tend to imbibe more heavily than their fellow citizens in other parts of the country.
When it comes to obesity, this province is also a national trend leader, especially among males.
In a CBC website commentary a couple of years ago, Gabriela Tymowski, who was identified as an associate professor in the Faculty of Kinesiology at the University of New Brunswick, wrote, “ While the numbers vary between surveys, recent indicators reveal 63 per cent of adult New Brunswickers and up to 36 per cent of New Brunswick children to be overweight or obese. At the most extreme classifications of obesity, New Brunswick adults have the highest rates in all of Canada.”
What’s more, she noted, “Obesity comes with personal, health and economic costs for individuals and societies, and here in New Brunswick we are heavier, more sedentary, smoke and drink more and eat fewer vegetables than most other Canadians.”
The economic costs of poor health seem self-evident. Absenteeism, short- and long-term disability bleeds skills and productivity from the labour force. According to a Conference Board of Canada report some years back, “There is a wide range of potential impacts of aging and poor and declining health on individuals and businesses. The indirect costs of poor health, including lower productivity due to short- and long-term disability and loss of future income due to mortality, provide some indication of the effects of poor health on productivity and, in turn, how well the economy can supply health care. For ten selected health conditions and chronic diseases, the economic burden (nationally) from indirect costs is estimated at $119 billion in 2010, up from $79 billion in 2000.”
All of which convincingly points to the link between the health of a population and the condition of its economy.
In this regard, Mr. Robichaud properly rings an alarm about a crisis in New Brunswick that’s not only humanitarian; it’s also distinctly and observably practical.