Report says widening income gap affects health

"Income levels have a direct impact on the health of Canadians, and it's costing us dearly." — James Clancy, NUPGE National President

Ottawa (20 Nov. 2015) — The Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) has released a report showing that the income gap in Canada has continued to widen over time. 

The report compares incomes over time to determine whether higher or lower incomes have an effect on people's health. The researchers took into consideration several factors including income, access to housing and food, smoking and obesity. Rates of injury and chronic disease were also factored into the CIHI analysis. 

CIHI findings show levels of income have a dramatic impact on health 

"The magnitude of the inequality between the health of richer Canadians and poorer Canadians is significant across the majority of the indicators we reviewed," said Kathleen Morris, CIHI's vice-president of Research and Analysis, in a news release.

"Over the past decade, inequalities did not change for 11 of the 16 indicators CIHI studied; in other words, the health of the poorest Canadians in relation to that of the richest is not getting better," Morris said. 

Canadians with higher incomes proved healthier over time

The three indicators that widened over time were smoking, hospitalization for Canadians younger than age 75 with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and self-rated mental health. 

The report reveals that adults in the highest income level smoked less over time, but the rates for adults in the lowest income level remained the same. As well, rates of COPD hospitalization decreased for the highest income level but increased for lower-income earners. The percentage of adults who indicated "fair" or "poor" mental health increased over time for all income levels, except the highest. 

Poor health leads to higher societal costs 

It's not just a person's health that is at issue; there is an overall cost to society that we all bear due to the widening income gap. 

"When we don't invest in the well-being of citizens, the problem gets bigger. The pressure on our health care system and other public services, as well as the lost productivity on the job, ends up costing us more than if we had just invested in the first place," says James Clancy, National President of the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE).

CIHI uses this example to demonstrate the significant costs of underestimating the problem of income inequality: "For example, if all Canadians experienced the same low rates of hospitalization for COPD as the highest income earners, there would be more than 18,000 fewer hospitalizations a year, which translates into $150 million in health-sector spending annually."

Solving the widening health gap means tackling income inequality

"The CIHI's report reflects what we know already to be true," said Clancy. "Income levels have a direct impact on the health of Canadians, and it's costing us dearly. But we know that we need to look at income inequality in a holistic manner."

"Only by incorporating the social determinants of health into our analysis, will we be able to address the health gap that exists between the richest and poorest Canadians," Clancy concluded.

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The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 360,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE

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