Deeper analysis needed on state of Canadians’ health

The Telegram
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This response is with regards to a recent article written by Deana Stokes Sullivan in The Telegram, which I read on July 8.

The article entitled “Newfoundland gets D grade for healthy living” brings the supposed current health of Newfoundlanders into the public eye, and paints a disturbing picture for readers.

As a current student of kinesiology at Memorial University of Newfoundland, I am taught on a daily basis about the importance of living a healthy life and the factors that make one’s lifestyle healthy.

Looking at the factors that have been analyzed to come up with our poor D grade I have to say that the Conference Board of Canada’s report on healthy living has missed the main picture of what the determinants of health really are.

Five lifestyle factors were used to come up with the provincial grades. These factors are heavy drinking, overweight or obese adults, smoking, fruit and vegetable consumption, and physical activity.  

We scored a total of four D grades and our single bright spot — a C in the smoking category.  

Now, if I were to go out on the streets of St. John’s today and ask anyone passing by what it meant to be healthy, they would probably say the five things that the Conference Board of Canada has said.

Everyone knows that we shouldn’t smoke. Likewise, we know the benefits of being physically active and eating the proper foods on a regular basis.

And while we all know that a cold beer can be a good thing every now and then, it doesn’t take a genius to tell you that drinking in excess is bad for you.

Some keeners may also respond to the question by saying to manage your stress, enjoy your job, and making time for leisure activities is also very important to good health.  

What you will find, though, is that almost no one will answer that one’s income, skin colour, gender, whether a person has aboriginal status, or whether they live by a major industrial area or highway also affects a person’s health.

These are just some of the 14 social determinants of health that Juha Mikkonen and Dennis Raphael identify in their document “Social Determinants of Health: The Canadian Facts.”

I will openly admit that before I started my degree program I never would have said any of these things are major contributors to health in Canada either.

Nor would I have said that Canada, while being the ninth wealthiest country in the world, uses this wealth to mask its overall problems associated with the health and well being of its individuals.

While it is fine that agencies such as the Conference Board of Canada publish reports looking at drinking, smoking, and fruit and vegetable consumption, why aren’t they going further into the issue and looking into why provinces such as Newfoundland are receiving such poor grades in these categories?

Why can’t we ever get to the root cause of these health issues and see what causes people to drink heavily, eat poorly, and not participate in physical activity?

Income inequality is this major root cause. It is seldom addressed by the people who have the power to do so in Canada. We need to stop defining health as whether or not a person goes to the gym regularly and start looking at why the same people keep showing up at our hospitals, food banks, and social service offices and find a way to fix this.

It is not impossible. While change would be dramatic and take a very long time to complete, it can be done.

The Scandinavian model of government and health care is on example of this. Look it up and you will see how quality of life and one’s health can be managed by things other than physical activity and smoking.

I recommend to readers that they read “Social Determinants of Health: The Canadian Facts” online.

More needs to be done to address the issues from the source instead of telling people that we score a D and need to step up our game.


Jeffrey Webber

St. John’s

Organizations: Conference Board of Canada, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canadian Facts

Geographic location: Newfoundland, Canada

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Recent comments

  • Dennis Raphael
    August 09, 2013 - 07:03

    Learn more about social determinants of health at: