Rich and poor

There’s a Health Gap Between the Richest and Poorest Canadians

You know what they say – money can’t buy you happiness, but can it buy you your health? It appears that the health inequity gap is widening between the richest and poorest Canadians. If this is true, what can be done to reduce this trend?

According to a fairly recent report, from the Canadian Institute for Health Information, the income gap amongst Canadians, was linked to 16 potential health factors, including poor mental health, smoking, heart attacks, and traffic-related injuries. Within the report, Canadians were categorized into five groups based on their annual average income from 1993 to 2011.

Just as the gap has widened in terms of health, so has the monetary values. The rich are most certainly getting richer, as the highest income group’s annual average income has increased 44 percent, in comparison to 27 percent for those in the lowest group.

These increasing values, have created potential health-related consequences. It’s the belief that this widening health gap is linked to three major contributing factors – smoking, COPD, and self-rated mental health. Over time, those who earn the most, have smoked less. Amongst the lowest income group, there were no changes reported regarding smoking habits.

Not surprisingly, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is also more common amongst lower-income individuals, whereas rates have decreased amongst the highest income level. Interestingly, when rating one’s personal mental health, both ‘fair’ and ‘poor’ ratings increased across time in all groups, except for the highest.

There were also gender differences reported, as men were more likely to be hospitalized for heart attacks, whereas low-income women had higher obesity rates when compared to high-income women.

What Can Be Done?

The first key step will focus on increasing awareness and education regarding these apparent health inequalities. In 2014, a report was published by Statistics Canada, highlighting the relationship between income and health. Shockingly, it was found that income inequality was linked to the annual premature death of 40,000 Canadians.

This study was conducted over the course of 16 years, which followed 2.7 million Canadians. Of course, income and death rates were calculated. Researchers then compared deaths amongst the richest 20 percent of Canadians, in comparison to the other 80 percent.

When the numbers were crunched and analyzed, it was found that significant differences were displayed between the wealthiest Canadians and the poorest Canadians. In fact, results show that a poor male has a 67 percent greater chance of dying each year and a poor woman has a 52 percent greater chance, when compared to the wealthiest population.

At the end of the day, poverty is a health issue and needs to be treated as such. From poor mental health to food insecurity, there are many Canadians who are currently at-risk. Many are now focusing on the concept of basic income – a strategy that would be more beneficial and cost-effective than current welfare programs.

The support for basic income is spreading across the country, as the Canadian Medical Association passed a motion to support this idea last summer. Over in Saskatchewan, they are reviewing an ambitious goal to reduce poverty by 50 percent by the end of 2020. To achieve this, basic income is being reviewed.

Although you may first believe that a guaranteed annual income would be pricey, poverty is much more expensive. In Ontario alone, it’s estimated that $30 billion is lost each year due to social and health-related costs, as well as reduced economic opportunities. Basic income would be more cost-effective and potentially close the gap between income and health.

Of course, there needs to be changes made to our current food system and the tobacco industry, as well as more psychological support, but poverty is a growing issue. If this concept gains momentum, millions of Canadians will live a more balanced life, without the worry of premature death.

For more information on basic income, visit the Basic Income Canada Network or Canada without Poverty.
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