Inequality makes Canadians sick

07-16-12

The most influential social determinant of health is income.  As inequality grows in Canada, so will the costs to health care and society as more people succumb to physical and mental illness.  That is the main point in the Toronto Star Op-Ed by Canada Without Poverty ED Rob Rainer and the President of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Union Linda Silas.  With the hope that the premiers, who are meeting this month in Halifax for their annual Council of the Federation meeting, will pay attention to the impact poverty has on health, Rainer and Silas shared recommendations for moving ahead as advocated by the World Health Organization.  These include:

• Improve the conditions of daily life — the circumstances in which people are born, grow, live, work and age.

 Tackle the inequitable distribution of power, money and resources — the structural drivers of those conditions of daily life.

 Measure the problem, evaluate action, expand the knowledge base, develop a workforce that is trained in the social determinants of health, and raise public awareness about the social determinants of health.

They also pressed the premiers to set the goal of being in the top five nations for five key health outcomes by 2017 and supported this call with evidence from such reports as the landmark Code Red project in Hamilton, where researchers documented a 21-year difference in life expectancy between residents of lower and higher income neighbourhoods.

To read the full Op-Ed click here.

On the heels of this article was the release of a report on child poverty by the Conference Board of Canada.  Noting that Canada now sits 13th out of 17 OECD countries, the report gives Canada a “C” grade on child poverty as 1 in 7 children live in poor households.

The report references the important role that health plays in a child’s life and states, “Children who experience poverty, especially persistently, are at higher risk of suffering health problems, developmental delays, and behaviour disorders. They tend to attain lower levels of education and are more likely to live in poverty as adults.”

Poverty is not just about income – it is about the  health of individuals, the economy and society as a whole.  As researches at the Equality Trust in the United Kingdom found, we all benefit when from a more equal society.  Let’s hope the premiers use their meeting this July to ensure Canada moves forward in the right direction.