Health is more than healthcare

So far what I’ve learned from playing journalist is that it gives you a great opportunity to learn about an issue, but you only get to pass on a fragment of the story in an article. 

Take my interview with Noralou Roos, Founding Director and Senior Research Scientist at the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy.  “Restraining the growing costs of healthcare” included a few of her comments on ways of reducing costs within the healthcare system. But the most interesting things she said didn’t fit into the article, because politicians took up all the space.

I asked Roos about a comment by Colleen Flood in The Huffington Post (May 27): “Access to health care itself is estimated to affect just 20 per cent of health status.”

Roos explained that the other 80 per cent is influenced by factors including economic status, education, early childhood development, or living in a dangerous area.

“Health is more than healthcare,” she said.

Flood referenced a study by the Conference Board of Canada that compared healthcare spending and health outcomes in 16 OECD countries. Japan had the lowest spending per capita, the longest lifespan, and the second lowest infant mortality. The U.S. had the highest spending, the lowest lifespan, and the highest infant mortality—6.7 deaths per thousand live births, compared to Japan’s 2.6. Canada’s spending was fourth and its infant mortality was second highest, at 5.1 per thousand.

Interestingly, in 1970 life expectancy in Japan was lower than in Canada; 72 years compared to 72.7 in Canada. Roos said that improved education seemed to be behind Japan’s strong improvement in health.

“They started focusing on women’s education, providing much more support to mothers, and providing women with much better education, which it’s not clear exactly why ... but that seemed to be (key to) Japan’s big increase in health status.”

She would like to see this approach in Canada.

“Investing in education, particularly for the bottom 20 percent (in income) of the population, would be a huge step toward improving the health of the population,” she said.

Roos also talked about the benefits of active transportation in reducing obesity. She observed that European cities with real bike paths have a lot less obesity than we have here.

As Bike to the Future pointed out a few days ago, the PC party has taken note of this connection, and built an active transportation plan into their healthcare platform. 

Bike to the Future is suggesting supporters ask other parties to promise in writing a provincial active transportation policy, a director of active transportation and an active transportation advisory board.