Campbell River (the green line) is facing significantly higher rates of hospitalization and death due to alcohol and tobacco use when compared to the rest of the Island. This is contributing to Campbell River’s life expectancy rate which is lower than the rest of the province.

Campbell Riverities expected to die sooner, face higher unemployement rates

Island’s medical health officer says there is a problem in Campbell River that is being ignored

Campbell Riverites are expected to live shorter lives than the rest of British Columbians but a new study from Island Health suggests that it’s not beyond our control to reverse that trend.

Dr. Charmaine Enns, medical health officer for Island Health, presented some startling data to directors on the Strathcona Regional District board last Wednesday.

She revealed that people living in the Campbell River area have an estimated life expectancy of 79.8 years, which is lower than the average age of 82.6 years for the rest of British Columbians as well as the rest of the Island (82.2 years).

Enns said that while Campbell Riverites’ life expectancy has been increasing since 1987, it’s not keeping up with the rest of the province.

“The gap is getting a little bit further,” Enns said. “The increase in life expectancy is not keeping up with the other regions in the province.”

But there is hope. Enns said the factors driving the life expectancy rate are motor vehicle crashes, alcohol and tobacco use and to a “small part,” suicide.

“These are all things, to my perspective, that we can do something about,” Enns said. “They’re not out of our control.

“I’m going to be blunt. We have a problem that we’re not paying attention to.”

Specifically when it comes to alcohol use.

In Campbell River, the per capita consumption of 13.7 litres of absolute alcohol, equivalent to 795 standard drinks per year or 2.2 drinks per day (which is higher than the overall Island average of 11.2 litres and the provincial average of nine litres) exceeds the average consumption Canadian Guidelines for Low Risk drinking for both men and women.

Enns said that’s a problem because it’s putting pressure on our healthcare system and it’s increasing the premature death rate in the region.

“Death rates due to alcohol and hospitalization due to alcohol consumption are significantly higher in Campbell River than on the rest of the Island,” Enns said.

There are also issues with tobacco use in the region. Enns said that 18 per cent of pregnant women in the Campbell River area and 23.2 per cent of pregnant women in the Gold River, Tahsis and Zeballos region reported that they smoked during their pregnancy. That’s in comparison to just 7.7 per cent of pregnant women across B.C. as a whole who smoked while pregnant.

Campbell River also struggles when it comes to finding employment. According to census data from 2011, 9.4 per cent of Campbell River’s employment-eligible population is unemployed compared to a 7.8 per cent unemployment rate for the province as a whole.

Island Health’s data also shows that 2.6 per cent of Campbell River’s population is on Income Assistance, compared with 1.9 per cent of the population of B.C. while 2.3 per cent of Campbell River’s population aged 15 and over is on Employment Insurance, which is greater than the 1.5 per cent of British Columbians as a whole. In Campbell River, the median lone-parent family income is $30,256 as compared to $42,610 for B.C. The median household total income in Campbell River is $56,672 compared with the provincial median of $60,333.

In the midst of those sobering statistics, however, there were some positives. Enns reported that strides have been made in improving Campbell River children’s readiness to learn when they enter school for the first time. Enns reported previously to Campbell River city council that in 2013, one in three Campbell River children was not developmentally ready to learn. She also revealed that 22.8 per cent of Campbell River children under the age of six were living in poverty and considered vulnerable.

Enns said things have since turned around, thanks to the efforts of groups such as Success by 6 and other stakeholders who work with children.

“Child development is a good news story for Campbell River,” Enns said. “The folks who do early childhood education in this area have put in a lot of effort to this and we’re now seeing less children vulnerable in the area.”

In the Campbell River area, 28 per cent of children are vulnerable on one or more scales of early childhood development such as physical and emotional health and language skills. That’s less than the provincial average of 32.2 per cent. The news, however, wasn’t as good for the Gold River, Tahsis and Zeballos region which reports that 53 per cent of children there are vulnerable on one or more scales.

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