Health report shows a big difference in longevity

Unprecedented decline in North Island life expectancy

What’s the difference between living in the Comox Valley and the Mt. Waddington Regional District.

Try about six more years of life.

“For two communities about three hours apart…that’s not okay,” said Dr. Charmaine Enns, medical officer of health for the North Island. What’s worse, she adds, is the average life expectancy has decreased in Mt. Waddington by about three months.

“This is unprecedented in Canada for life expectancy to decline,” she stated.

Dr. Enns was speaking on new report released by the provincial health officers. The report, Health Inequities in BC, clearly shows that socio-economic factors play a key role in longevity. The map of Vancouver Island looks like a patch-work quilt as various colours illustrate the so-called “have and have-not” communities.

Taking into account a variety of factors – such as overall health and preventable disease, education, economics, crime, and children and youth at risk – the report shows the Comox Valley generally rated in the “second best” group throughout B.C., Campbell River falls in the middle of the pack, with the rest of the North Island rated at second worst or worst.

More clearly, here are the average life expectancy for all three:

  • Comox Valley, 81.5-81.9 years.
  • Campbell River, 79.5-80.2 years.
  • North Island, 73.8-77.3 years.

And it will take more than two new hospitals and other quick fixes to balance the inequities, noted Enns.

“Pouring $600 million into new hospitals won’t solve the problems,” she said. The best solution, she said, is to implement a province-wide poverty reduction plan, such as Newfoundland did. This would include developing affordable housing and universal child care.

And the focus for these, she added, wouldn’t be the poorest poor, who have access to many programs, but the working poor who “fall between the cracks.”

“It’s about social programs and policy,” said Dr. Enns. “This takes time, but pays off in long-term gains. When you reduce poverty, the whole population benefits.”