In a recent report from the Conference Board of Canada, we came third behind Switzerland and Sweden — thankfully this was not in hockey. According to the Report Card on Health, British Columbia ranks third behind those two countries and ahead of the remaining 14 countries evaluated. Canada as a whole comes tenth.
The Report Card grades each province and territory along with Canada as a whole along with a total of 15 peer countries including Australia (who came in fourth), Norway, France, Japan, Netherlands, USA, Ireland, UK and others. The report is based on 11 measures of health from infant mortality to suicides.
The performance of a region (country, province) on risk factors that contribute to chronic diseases like cancer, diabetes and heart disease is important, but so is the approach towards treatment and prevention. Some risk factors in Canada for chronic disease such as tobacco and alcohol use are positive, but others are not. We continue to find high rates of obesity which contribute to many chronic conditions including heart disease, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.
Canada as a whole rates a ‘B’ reflecting a range of results including ‘A’s in Self-reported health status, premature mortality and mortality due to circulatory diseases. ‘C’ ratings in mortality due to cancer, diabetes, musculoskeletal system diseases and infant mortality brought the overall results down to the final ‘B’.
The top three killers in Canada remain cancer, heart disease, and stroke. Cancer and heart disease alone were responsible for close to half the deaths in Canada in 2011.
British Columbia, on the other hand, scored exceptionally well in many categories including ‘A’ ratings for life expectancy, premature mortality, self-reported health status, and mortality due to cancer. BC rated ‘B’ in an additional six categories: infant mortality; mortality due to heart disease and stroke, self-reported mental health, mortality due to respiratory disease, mortality due to diseases of the nervous system, and suicides.
The lone ‘C’ rating for BC came in for mortality due to diabetes. This result is puzzling because BC has the lowest prevalence of diabetes in Canada and has a strong performance on other diabetes risk factors. The Conference Board concludes that this finding needs to be further investigated.
In considering BC’s Health Report Card with its four ‘A’, six ‘B’ and one ‘C’ ratings, Health Minister Terry Lake reflected that these very positive results were achieved “while maintaining among the lowest per capita healthcare spending.”
There is always room for improvement: What will it take for Canada to be a top performer? The Conference Board suggests that while funding for health promotion and disease prevention must compete with other financial demands, investments in prevention are richly rewarded in the long run, even if they are politically difficult; we need to consider prevention as a solution in the end.
Dr. Paul Martiquet is the Medical Health Officer for Rural Vancouver Coastal Health including Powell River, the Sunshine Coast, Sea-to-Sky, Bella Bella and Bella Coola.