NEWS

How healthy are we?

Report sheds light on health of Region residents

Cover of Community Health Assessment Report

Winnipeg Health Region
Published Friday, January 14, 2011

Winnipeggers are living longer.

A new report produced for the Winnipeg Health Region indicates that the average city resident can expect to live 79.35 years. That's up from previous reports, but still slightly less than the national average of 80.7 years.

This measure of life expectancy is one of several findings contained in the Region's Community Health Assessment (CHA) for 2010. Produced every five years, the report reviews a variety of key health indicators, including life expectancy, chronic disease rates, diet, and physical activity rates. The resulting snapshot of the overall health of people living in the community is then used by various health organizations to help inform decisions about the delivery of health care, and steps to improve the health of the people of Winnipeg.

While the increase in life expectancy is certainly welcome, it's not the only good news in the report. "Overall, we are a relatively healthy bunch," says Dr. Michael Routledge, Medical Officer of Health with the Region. "You can see that reflected in the increase in life expectancy, and the declines in heart disease mortality rates and cancer incidence."

But while the report suggests many of us are living longer, healthier lives, it also points out that some of us are not.

The city's premature mortality rate, for example, is not decreasing. The number of people being treated for diabetes is increasing at a rapid pace, which increases the risk for conditions such as heart and kidney disease.

Many people are experiencing mental health problems, and injury deaths, including suicide, occur frequently even though many are preventable. Rates of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) among our youth and young adults are among the highest in Canada.

Some of these health issues can be attributed to individual lifestyle choices. The report notes, for example, that too many Winnipeggers still smoke. And many Region residents could stand to improve their diet and get a little more exercise. Poor nutritional habits and decreasing levels of physical activity are among the factors that have led to predictions that life expectancy may begin to decline in some developed countries.

But it is important to recognize that most of the causes of poor health can not be attributed exclusively to lifestyle "choices." Most lifestyle choices and health outcomes are determined more by the conditions in which people live than by personal preference. One example demonstrating this is that compared to other Canadian cities, Winnipeg has been found to have much wider gaps in health status between affluent and less affluent areas, which suggests that societal factors play an important and unseen role in determining health.

"Differences in living circumstances, that can include significant inequities in factors such as financial resources, social supports and exposure to healthy environments, have a profound impact on a person's health," says Routledge.

"We should strive to ensure that all Winnipeggers live in safe and supportive environments that maximize the opportunity for everyone to reach their potential in health and achievement. This is particularly true for children, who have both a high level of need for support and potential to develop in their early years. The CHA further reinforces the fact that until we are successful as a society in creating these supportive environments, we will not see reductions in health and social system demands, and will not see improvements in the overall health of our fellow citizens."

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