Tag Archives: obesity

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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Fat and poor: What’s not to love about the East Coast?

Evidence of Atlantic Canadian exceptionalism mounts with each day that passes. Judging from the headlines, our position within Confederation has never been more secure, our role never more crucial.

Do we serve the rest of Canada as both the butt of their jokes and the source of their ire? Of course we do, and with brio, mister.

Merely consider the following from the Globe and Mail, Canada’s self-assured, self-identifying “national” newspaper, the other day:

“The number of obese Canadians has tripled since the mid-1980s, a phenomenon driven by a sharp rise in the number of extremely overweight adults whose health complications are expected to place a heavy burden on the health-care system.”

And where, pray tell, will we find the highest rate of corpulence in Canada?

“(The) burden is not spread evenly, with the highest proportion of obese adults in the Atlantic provinces and the lowest in wealthy and healthy British Columbia, according to a new study that predicts the country’s weight problem is only going to get worse, especially in the fattest provinces.”

What’s worse, the piece goes on to say, “the study warns that, if the trend continues, more than one in five Canadians will be obese by 2019. In five provinces – Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Saskatchewan and Manitoba – there will be more adults who are overweight and obese than adults who tip the scales at a healthy weight that same year.”

Oddly, there’s no explanation for why Prince Edward Island, alone among East Coast provinces, is missing from the list. It’s conceivable that with a smaller population than Metro Moncton’s, the Island failed to impress itself as a province upon the study’s authors, one of whom is, herself, a resident of Atlantic Canada.

“We have a growing number of these people (overweight and obese) and we haven’t really sorted out the treatment. ” Laurie Twells, a prof in the faculty of medicine at Memorial University in St. John’s. “We’re not actually curing it (obesity). We haven’t managed to help people lose weight and keep it off, other than through something like bariatric surgery.”

Now, as other research links obesity with straightened socio-economic circumstances, it should come as no surprise to anyone that Atlantic Canada is not only home to the nation’s highest proportion of fat people; it’s also home to the highest proportion of poor ones.

According to Statistics Canada’s The Daily a year ago, “the income gap between the top one per cent and the rest of filers has widened over time. In 1982, the median income of the top one per cent of filers was $191,600. This was seven times higher than the median income of $28,000 for the other 99 per cent of filers. By 2010, the median income of the top one per cent of filers increased to $283,400, about 10 times higher than the median income of $28,400 for the rest. The income of top filers was increasingly dependent on their jobs, rather than on investments.”

Meanwhile, “in 2010, four provinces – Ontario, Alberta, Quebec and British Columbia – accounted for 92 per cent of the 254,700 people in the top 1 per cent.

Ontario had 110,300, followed by Alberta with 52,200, Quebec at 42,600 and British Columbia with 29,500. Between 1990 and 2010, Alberta’s share of the top 1 per cent of filers doubled from 10 per cent to 20 per cent, while Ontario’s proportion fell from 51 per cent to 43 per cent.”

The only reason why no Atlantic province gets a mention is that the incidence of conspicuous wealth in the region is so rare, it’s statistically insignificant.

On the other hand, reported the Globe last year, “new data shows the share of individual income that comes from government transfers is highest in the Atlantic provinces. Three of those provinces. . .receive slightly more transfers than the total taxes they pay. The main factors appear to be higher unemployment in Atlantic Canada – but also an older population.”

Uh, no kidding Sherlock.

To be sure, though, we along the seabound East Coast might yet salvage some dignity. A new Scotiabank poll finds that Atlantic Canadian small business owners are more inclined than their counterparts elsewhere in the country to work until they drop.

That, too, makes us special among our countrymen.

Still, who’s complaining? As long as it keeps our minds off the junk food.

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