Campbell River health picture ‘mind blowing’

Reduced life expectancy: Drug, alcohol consumption; children struggling from a young age

Dr. Charmaine Enns, the North Island’s medical health officer, painted a bleak picture for council Tuesday night that showed Campbell River is above average in all the wrong categories.

Campbell River residents have a reduced life expectancy when compared to the rest of B.C., according to the most recent statistics compiled by Island Health.

The life expectancy for someone living in the Campbell River area is 80 years, which is two years less than the rest of Vancouver Island and B.C.

“One of the reasons is because Campbell River area has the second highest rate on the Island of deaths due to drugs and suicide and those are both deaths that happen in younger populations,” Enns said. “And when I say drugs, I’m talking about illicit, prescription or over the counter drugs – not tobacco or alcohol.”

Alcohol consumption is also higher in Campbell River than in the rest of B.C., at almost 158 litres per person over the age of 19.

“That’s 13 litres per month; that’s a lot of alcohol,” Enns said. “Campbell River has the third highest on the Island alcohol-related mortality rate and also has quite a high alcohol-related hospitalization rate.”

Enns said cultural and societal factors that a person experiences through their first five or six years of life have a huge impact on the type of decisions a person will make throughout their life and often determine their place in society.

And in Campbell River, the

statistics show that often children are struggling from a young age.

“Campbell River children rate lower for standards of reading and writing to their counterparts in B.C. and the rest of the Island and the Campbell River area has a high rate of kids in need of care,” said Enns, noting that in Campbell River, 23 children per 1,000 kids require protection compared to 12 per 1,000 kids in the rest of B.C. Campbell River kids are also more vulnerable to physical disability compared to their counterparts in B.C.

Success by 6, a local initiative that builds awareness around the importance of early childhood development, is trying to break down those barriers.

“Early Development Instrument data, collected from kindergarten students by their teachers shows that Campbell River children under six are most vulnerable in the physical health and well-being scale over the other domain areas compared to the rest of B.C.,” said Cheryl Jordan, Success by 6 co-ordinator. “The physical health and well-being domain measures things such as motor development, energy level, daily preparedness for school, washroom independence and established handedness. This has raised some concern in the early learning community and we are working on ways to lower the vulnerability.”

The Campbell River area also has a higher birth rate among teenagers – more than twice as high – compared to the rest of the province and a lower lone-parent family income.

“The lone-parent family income in the Campbell River area is $30,000 and the average on the Island is $40,000, so it’s about $10,000 less, which is significant when you’re a lone parent,” Enns said.

Council was surprised by the sobering statistics.

“That was kind of mind blowing,” said Coun. Ron Kerr. “I think sometimes we get to feeling pretty good about ourselves and our community and then we get statistics like that that show we’ve still got a lot of work to do – an awful lot of work to do.”

Enns said the decisions council makes determine a community’s situation and in turn, its residents’ health.

Coun. Larry Samson asked Enns what council can do.

Enns said Island Health has been advocating for universal, $10 a day childcare which would grant more families access to high-quality, high-standard child care subsidized by the provincial government.

“It has an impact on those early years and health outcomes,” Enns said. “But anything that takes the pressure off families, because we have a generation that’s being squeezed. The 20-30 year olds are coming out with higher debt loads and they’re having to stay in school longer to get lower paying jobs. The financial pressure is really squeezing them in a significant way that we were never squeezed when we were that age.”

Coun. Andy Adams suggested city staff make Enns’ statistics available on the city’s website so that different agencies working to resolve these issues in the community can access the information.