Our Priorities & Commitment to the Province

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Most British Columbians are fully aware that good mental health goes hand-in-hand with good physical health. Factors such as stable housing, nutritious food, regular activity, social connections and healthy foundations in childhood contribute to strong mental and physical wellbeing in the long-term.

While these are all factors that are within BCAHL’s focus, COVID-19 has highlighted the need to further invest in policies and programs that ensure equity – so that we can close the gap in health. As we progress through the provincial election, we urge political candidates and leaders to seriously consider how these factors impact the long-term health of British Columbians, and what we can do to ensure equity amidst and after a pandemic.

Activity for Physical and Mental Wellness

According to COVID-19 based surveys, 38% of Canadians report worse mental health due to the pandemic, with a disproportionate number of people with disabilities, low income, and those with pre-existing mental health conditions reporting suicidal thoughts since the outbreak. Moreover, nearly half of all Canadians turned to physical activity to cope with mental health issues, while less than 3% of 5-17 year olds met movement guidelines.

We need to continue recognizing physical activity as an essential component to chronic disease prevention and mental wellness as the pandemic continues into the new year. There is no denying the dynamic interrelationship between chronic disease and mental health; there’s extensive evidence connecting mental illness to chronic diseases such as cancer, asthma, and diabetes. Physical activity can improve both physical and mental wellbeing.

British Columbia has two great planning documents to guide investments and activities that will get more British Columbians moving, more often but these require ongoing and adequate funding.

Healthy Eating

Healthy eating has been linked with good physical and mental health. However, with the pandemic and economic downturn, the issue of food security has heightened. The demand for family food hampers and student food programs has increased and many organizations are not able to meet that demand. For instance, the Breakfast Club of Canada provides 300,000 more meals now compared to last year, and it’s still short of the current needs.

According to the BC Centre for Disease and Control, the average monthly cost of a nutritious food basket for a family of four in 2017 was $1,019. With the rise of income insecurity, and thereby food insecurity, the access to healthy and nutritious foods is shrinking and British Columbians risk poor wellbeing across the province.

BCAHL recommends a mix of policies to promote healthy eating: income security measures to address household food insecurity that is rooted in poverty, as well as support for community initiatives to provide local access to food – such as a Universal Healthy School Food Program.

Alcohol consumption in BC has been above the average in Canada for the past decade, and alcohol consumption has only increased with the pandemic. With stress and boredom being the primary reasons for people to consume alcohol more frequently, 20% who drink at home report drinking more often than before the pandemic. One in seven report remorse after drinking, and 8% said they couldn’t stop drinking on more than one occasion.

BCAHL recommends policy approaches that support a moderate alcohol culture put reasonable restrictions on access (through location, hours of availability and pricing).

Poverty Reduction

With over 220,000 people unemployed due to the pandemic, British Columbians need poverty reduction plans to ensure people can access and maintain food security, stable income, safe housing, and affordable childcare. Without these measures in place, it’s very difficult for people to lead healthy lives. After all, factors like housing and food are basic human needs that need to be met before a person can focus on other things like physical activity.

Studies also show the correlation between family income and childhood development: when family income falls, child rates of poor health, hyperactivity, and delayed vocabulary development rises. Quality childhood development and childcare on top of poverty reduction will only serve to enhance children, especially for kids experiencing disadvantages.

BCAHL recommends that sufficient resources are allocated to TogetherBC, the Provincial Poverty Reduction Strategy, starting with the extension of the $300 supplement to Income and Disability Assistance beyond June and the development of a basic income in the longer term.

The facts and figures present a stark reality as we enter stage two of the pandemic and near the finish line of this snap election. However, through this crisis British Columbians are also presented with opportunities to demonstrate the need for equitable access to programs and services in their community. Our voice, advocacy efforts and vote can build real positive changes for current and future generations.

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