Health gap in B.C. widening, says Health Council
People in the least well‐off areas of British Columbia are dying sooner than those in better‐off areas, according to new figures from the Health Officers Council of BC. Overall life expectancy in BC has improved, but in less affluent areas of the province life expectancy has remained much the same or even declined.
In an update to their 2008 report on health inequality in the province, the Health Officers Council showed the gap in life expectancy between Local Health Areas (LHAs) with the highest socio‐economic status (SES) and those with the lowest SES has widened dramatically.
Overall, life expectancy in British Columbia increased by six months between the periods of 2002‐6 and 2006‐10. In the top 20% well‐off regions life expectancy increased by over 14 months to 82.4 years.
“What is particularly disturbing,” said HOC spokesperson Dr. John Millar, a former Provincial Health Officer, “is that life expectancy increased by just under one month for the lowest SES group and actually declined by almost three months for the second lowest group. It is unprecedented in Canada for life expectancy to decline, though we have seen a similar trend in the United States recently. This suggests that while individuals in the second lowest SES group of LHAs still have a life expectancy more than 1.5 years greater than the lowest income group, the gap between them is starting to close.”
“It doesn’t have to be this way,” said Dr. David Patrick, Director of the UBC School of Population and Public Health. “Family wealth has much less impact on health and human potential when relatively small investments in the support of vulnerable families are made, when there is investment in quality affordable daycare and when policies better assure that everyone can afford to put a healthy plate of food on the table.”
The report also examined the differences between LHAs with respect to premature mortality rates. The report found that the differences between the highest and lowest SES areas were apparent across disease groupings and are not confined to any particular causes of death.
“We have evidence that overall health is better in nations that are more economically and socially equitable,” said Dr. Trevor Hancock, a Professor and Senior Scholar at the School of Public Health and Social Policy at the University of Victoria.
“It is good that the highest income groups are getting healthier, but the lowest income groups need to experience equal or greater gains if the health gap is to be narrowed. This calls for a wide range of policy interventions across all sectors to reduce poverty and improve supports for the less well‐off.”