What’s the Secret to a Long, Healthy Life? Love, Laugh, Eat Well, Be Active and Don’t Be Poor

This weekend I am going to visit my 91 year old Grams. She is an exceptional woman in many ways, she still lives in her own house, does her own shopping, cooking and gardening (with just a little extra yard help), she travels, volunteers and is a regular on the dance floors of the Cowichan Valley.  At 91, she is not quite an ‘outlier’ but definitely someone who is pushing the average life expectancy upwards. More importantly, she continues to lead a healthy, fulfilling life. And it is exactly this kind of measurement – of quality of life (as opposed to just length of life) that is the subject of the Chief Public Health Office Canada’s  report on ‘Health-Adjusted Life Expectancy.’

This report takes life expectancy and subtracts the years of ill health to give us a measure of how many healthy years Canadians might expect to live.

Getting back to Grams – you may wonder, ‘what’s the secret to her longevity?’ Certainly a healthy diet, active lifestyle, good relationships and community connections have played a major role. In future reports, the Chief Public Health Officer has committed to looking at those type of risk factors but in this report they looked at the impact of chronic disease and income.  Even though my grandmother lived through the hardship brought on by the world wars and depression, she was fortunate to live most of her life with a comfortable income.
As the report points out, being on the high end of the income ladder compared to the lower end, can add years to your life.  It says, “[c]ompared with being in the highest income group, being in the bottom one-third income group was associated with a loss of health-adjusted life expectancy at birth of 3.2 years for women and 4.7 years for men.”

In terms of reducing the gap that exists between rich and poor, the HALE report points out, “a decrease in the rate of deaths from conditions amenable to medical care made the largest contribution to reducing socio-economic differences in mortality over a 25-year period after the establishment of universal health insurance in Canada.”

So if universal healthcare was the big public policy that made a difference in the last generation – what’s on the horizon for the next?  This is something we’ll be discussing in our upcoming webinar, “Poverty Reduction as a Prescription for Health“. If you’re interested in what advocates for improved health equity are suggesting for the next generation please join us on Wednesday, December 12th.

Rita Koutsodimos
Manager, Advocacy & Communications
December 2012

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