Chronic diseases taking toll on Canadians: Conference Board

Country performing poorly on managing musculoskeletal disorders, diabetes, cancers
||Last Updated: 03/01/2012

Canada ranks tenth in population health among 17 countries in the Conference Board of Canada's health report card. Chronic diseases are exacting a toll on the country; in addition to affecting the health of Canadians, these diseases strain the resources of the health-care system, said the Conference Board.

Compared to its international peers, Canada gets relatively poor "C" grades on mortality rates due to cancer, diabetes and musculoskeletal system diseases. If Canada earned an "A" grade on these three indicators, it would move up to fourth place overall in the How Canada Performs health report card.

"Canada is facing a growing burden from chronic diseases such as diabetes and cancer. This burden is expected to increase due to an aging population and rising rates of obesity," said Gabriela Prada, director of health, innovation, policy and evaluation at the Conference Board. "The future health of Canadians depends not only on the quality of the health-care system, but also on education about chronic disease risk factors and increased emphasis on prevention."

The health report card assesses the overall health status of Canadians against that of citizens in 16 other industrialized countries on 11 indicators. Canada received a "B" grade overall but it earned "A" grades on three health indicators:

•self-reported health status
•mortality due to circulatory diseases (primarily heart disease and stroke)
•premature mortality.

Canada received "B" grades on mortality due to mental disorders and mortality due to respiratory diseases, which include asthma, tuberculosis, bronchiolitis, emphysema, cystic fibrosis, influenza and pneumonia.

However, Canada performs poorly on the prevention and management of three chronic diseases:

•mortality due to musculoskeletal diseases —"C" grade, eleventh-place ranking (conditions include rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, major limb trauma and spinal disorders)
•mortality due to cancer — "C" grade, thirteenth-place ranking
•mortality due to diabetes — "C" grade, fifteenth-place ranking.

While Canada has made progress in reducing the mortality rate for these conditions, the overall number of cases is increasing, likely due to the aging of the population and lifestyle factors, said the Conference Board.

Japan, Switzerland and Italy earned overall "A" grades in this year's health report card. These top-performing countries achieve better outcomes by taking actions to influence and improve the broader determinants of health, such as environmental stewardship. Health promotion programs that focus on changes in lifestyles — including reducing smoking rates, increasing physical activity, and promoting healthier diets and safer driving habits — contribute to overall population health, said the Conference Board.

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