Canadians see income, housing, education as determinants of good health: report

OTTAWA – A new report says how much you earn, where you live and how well you eat are viewed by Canadians as key factors that affect their health.

The report, to be released today, makes a dozen recommendations on what actions governments and individuals can take to live healthier lives.

The findings are based on a series of town hall meetings held across the country by the Canadian Medical Association, focusing on social factors that cause poor health.

The four main factors cited by Canadians as having a significant impact on health were income, housing, nutrition and food security, and early childhood development.

The report, ‘Health care in Canada: What makes us sick,’ a portion of which was obtained by The Canadian Press, lists several other social determinants of health, including culture, the environment and levels of education.

The town halls heard from about 1,000 people between February and June in Charlottetown, St. John’s, N.L., Calgary, Winnipeg, Montreal and Hamilton, Ont.

A separate meeting was held solely to address the challenges facing aboriginal Canadians, since their health is seen as being particularly influenced by social factors.

The CMA was already aware of the many social factors that can affect the health of individuals when it launched the town hall meetings, but was looking for input from Canadians before issuing calls for action.

“When you look at what most often drives poor health, it is factors such as poverty, poor nutrition, substandard housing and lack of education,” CMA president Dr. Anna Reid said in a statement released before the meetings began.

“With so much pressure on access to health care, we tend to focus on the supply side and ways to increase services,” she said.

“Wouldn’t it be more responsible from an economic standpoint, not to mention more compassionate, to tackle the reasons behind the high demand for health care in the first place?”

Town hall participants cited poverty as the most important issue affecting the health of Canadians, and the factor needing the most urgent attention.

But they also told the CMA panel that individual Canadians and medical professionals — not just governments — must work to combat the factors that affect health.

“Governments need to be pressured to take action,” says the report.

“But there is a clear role for citizens, physicians and communities to help deal with the problems.”

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