Tag Archives: health

How are we feeling?

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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.

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Will an apple a day keep the doctor away?

 

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Just so there’s no confusion: In our processed, fast-food, anxiety-riddled society, life without sugar is not an option.

Yes, the World Health Organization (WHO) says otherwise, but. . .well, come on. . .its new recommended limit of 12 level teaspoons a day? That would get the average person through lunch.

We might as well face it, one month after Valentines Day, we’re all addicted to the kind of love that comes in a box. Hello chocolate; come to daddy.

Of course, in my case, it’s not just any chocolate. It’s this absurdly tasty, milky variety by Lindt. No other branding is necessary. I buy it by the gross. I smell it through its paper and foil packaging. I fondle its brown, yielding edges just before I pop it into my mouth. I completely surrender to the orgasmic adventure of. . .

Hey, did I mention that I quit smoking once and for all (again), just the other day? Maybe, just maybe, there’s a connection. The WHO certainly thinks there is, if only a terminal one.

“The guideline amount has been slashed dramatically amid fears that sugar poses the same threat to health as tobacco. . .Experts blame it for millions of premature deaths across the world every year. . . Graham MacGregor, a London cardiologist and health campaigner, said: ‘Added sugar is a completely unnecessary part of our diets, contributing to obesity, type II diabetes and tooth decay. . .We have known about the health risks of sugar for years and yet nothing substantial has been done. . .The new recommendations will be a wakeup call to the Department of Health and the Government to take action by forcing the food industry to slowly reduce the huge amount of sugar added across the board.’”

Meanwhile, Britain’s chief medical officer Sally Davies “has already said a tax may be put on calorie-laden food and drink to curb soaring levels of obesity. Labour suggested last night it would impose a maximum limit on sugar, fat and salt in products marketed at children.”

All that was from London’s Daily Mail last week. Here’s something else from the desks of science reporters: Contrary to everything we’ve been told since June Cleaver made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for Beaver and the boys back in the 1950s, low-fat diets do not prevent heart attacks.

“There is no conclusive proof that a low-fat diet has any positive effects on health,” The Mail quoted James DiNicolantonio, a New York-based cardiovascular research scientist. “Indeed, the literature indicates a general lack of any effect (good or bad) from a reduction in fat intake. The public fear that saturated fat raises cholesterol is completely unfounded. . .We need a public health campaign as strong as the one we had in the 70s and 80s demonizing saturated fats, to say that we got it wrong.”

So what is the culprit (apart from sugar, obviously)? Take it away, Dr. DiNicolantoni:

“From these data, it is easy to comprehend that the global epidemic of atherosclerosis, heart disease, diabetes, obesity and the metabolic syndrome is being driven by a diet high in carbohydrate/sugar as opposed to fat, a revelation that we are just starting to accept.”

Naturally, these revelations might be easier to accept if we could actually keep track of them.

If it’s not sugar that’s killing us, it’s salt. And what’s up with eggs? One week, they’re nature’s perfect protein. The next, experts are insisting we’d be better off sipping hemlock.

“Researchers found that eating one or more eggs a day did not increase the risk of heart disease or stroke among healthy people,” the Globe and Mail reported last year. “It did, however, increase the odds of developing type 2 diabetes, a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke.”

And don’t imagine, for a minute, that downing a handful of vitamin D supplements will save you. It turns out we were wrong about that, too.

“Previous research has shown that vitamin D deficiency is associated with poor health and early death,” according to a HealthDay report earlier this year. “But recent evidence suggests that low levels of vitamin D are a result, not a cause, of poor health.”

We can be reasonably certain that cutting back on sugar is the sensible thing to do. But, amid the epidemic of shifting medical consensus about virtually everything these days, we’ll just have to trust our guts on that one.

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