Tipping the healthy scale

An overview of the state of health in Manitoba

Even though there are indicators that people are generally getting healthier over time, not everybody is getting healthier, according to a local research scientist. Cindy Titus

Statistics Canada reports that Manitoba’s obesity rate of 30.4 per cent is only slightly higher than the national level of 26 per cent. While it’s a small difference in numbers, it’s a large problem for the health of Manitobans.

“Winnipeg is very much like the rest of the country,” said Colleen Rand, regional manager of clinical nutrition with Winnipeg Regional Health Authority. “It was cited in 2006 that about 60 per cent of adults are overweight and obese. That’s 380,071 adults in Winnipeg. It’s likely the number has gone up since then.”

According to Randy Fransoo, a research scientist at the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy (MCHP), while the overall status of health in Manitoba is improving gradually that doesn’t guarantee every individual is following suit.

“Even though we have a number of indicators that people are generally getting healthier over time, not everybody is getting healthier,” he said. 

Fransoo, along with other researchers at MCHP, compiled the Manitoba RHA Indicators Atlas 2009 Report, a study of a five-year period to determine the overall health of Manitobans.

One of the key indicators of the report is premature mortality rates, the causes and number of deaths below the age of 75.

In the most recent report, even though circulatory diseases (including heart disease and stroke) remain the leading cause of death in Manitoba, incidents of stroke and heart attacks have actually gone down, while cancer has become a more prominent cause of premature death.

Still, circulatory diseases, cancer and respiratory diseases made up for 70 per cent of deaths in Manitoba during the five-year period.

Reported cases of Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes in Manitoba are also on the rise, but Fransoo is unsure if the number of people who carry the disease has actually changed.

“It’s kind of a funny thing because of the way we look at a disease,” he said. “When you look harder for something you find more of it. But in proof, diabetes could be the same in Manitoba as it was ten years ago, but because it’s a concern, we’re looking harder and finding more cases.”

In northern Manitoba communities it was reported that the number of injuries had risen as they were the cause of a quarter of all premature deaths, followed by cancer and circulatory diseases.

Fransoo noted this could be attributed to the lack of opportunities in some of Manitoba’s poorer communities.

“There’s a long standing connection between wealth and health,” he said. “The social determinants of health and what kind of opportunities you have are a much stronger driver than the health care system.”

Fransoo said people who live in lower income areas tend to have higher risk of disease, use healthcare services and visit the doctor more often. He added that the average age of death for men in Manitoba’s wealthiest areas is nine years longer than the average age of death in Manitoba’s poorest areas.

To combat the glaring unhealthy statistics, the provincial government has put forward a number of physical activity and healthy eating initiatives specific to the needs of each community. In 2011 alone the province will be spending $6.7 million to directly support these initiatives. 

“We’ve been listening to our communities’ needs and looking at evidence-based programs to provide a solution for those needs,” said Mark Robertson, director of Healthy Living and Populations for Manitoba Healthy Living, Youth and Seniors. “The communities decide what they want to do.”

The Northern Healthy Foods Initiative is one specific program focusing on food self-sufficiency in northern communities by assisting residents in making healthier food choices and having fresh foods more available through a series of projects. 

“We’re trying to improve people’s physical activity and nutrition levels,” added Robertson. “It’s the small things that people can do, it’s not about just going to the gym.”

Within the city, Rand said that it’s likely that most people have been educated on healthy lifestyle choices with proper nutrition and exercise, but often time, accessibility and misinformation become an issue. 

“One thing that’s happened over time is that there are a lot of hot and cold beverages that people buy to hydrate themselves, and these drinks often hold a lot of calories,” she said. “It’s not something that people recognize.”

Rand emphasized the importance of physical activity along with healthy diet, noting that the best way to improve metabolism is through getting active.

“The more exercise you do, the more lean mass you have, (and) the higher your metabolism,” she said. 

Sherry Sigurdur, program director at the West Portage branch YMCA-YWCA of Winnipeg, mentioned that typically, fitness centres like the YMCA will experience surges of people in January for new year’s resolutions as well as when the weather starts getting nice and people start to think about beach bodies.

Sigurdur stressed the importance of maintaining physical activity throughout the year and always getting right back on track when life’s distractions happen.

“A lot of people think they have to do so much, but just starting to move is a great benefit,” she said.

Published in Volume 65, Number 20 of The Uniter (February 24, 2011)

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