New Issue of “Health Indicators”: Statistics Canada

1 February 2005, Ottawa – This new issue of Health Indicators, an Internet-based data publication, features updated health region level data and maps based on the most recent vital and cancer statistics available. Updates include: life expectancy, infant mortality, low-birth weight, and mortality rates by selected causes.

Even though Canada has one of the highest life expectancies in the world, today’s release of Health Indicators demonstrates that life expectancy varies widely between health regions. People living in Northern and remote regions of Canada, many of whom are Aboriginal, have life expectancies more in line with developing countries than with other Canadians.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), in 2001 for both sexes, Canada had the ninth highest life expectancy in the world, only 2.1 years behind Japan, which has the longest life expectancy in the world at 81.4 years. Canada has the seventh highest life expectancy for men and the eleventh highest life expectancy for women, very similar to other wealthy, industrialized countries.

However, within Canada there exist wide variations in health status. Placed within an international perspective, these disparities are especially revealing. The Richmond Health Service Delivery Area in British Columbia has the highest life expectancy in Canada at 83.4 years, two years higher than Japan and at the top of the WHO’s ranking.

At the other end of the spectrum is R�gion de Nunavik in Quebec, which has the lowest life expectancy in Canada at 66.7 years for males and females. This places R�gion de Nunavik between the Dominican Republic (67.0 years) and Egypt (66.5 years), ranked at 111 and 112 out of 191 countries.

There are many factors that can affect a person’s health: geography, socio-economic circumstances, health behaviours, and interactions among the three.

Canadian communities with the lowest life expectancies are in the most northern and isolated parts of Canada, and are also characterized by low incomes and a high proportion of the population receiving government transfer payments. Smoking, heavy drinking and high mortality rates due to suicides and accidents are also prevalent in these health regions.

Health regions enjoying the highest life expectancies are typically urban communities experiencing high population growth, and are characterized by higher incomes and educational attainment. Smoking, heavy drinking, and mortality rates due to suicides and injuries are low.

The links between geography, socio-economic characteristics, health behaviours, and health status are complex. However, the “peer group” concept introduced in earlier issues of Health Indicators can be used to address these questions. Peer groups consist of health regions with common socio-economic and demographic characteristics. Health regions that are anomalies within a peer group in terms of health status and health behaviours can be used by researchers to identify the pathways that create good or poor health.

Also featured in this release are breastfeeding rates by province, territory, and peer group. The 2003 Canadian Community Health Survey found that 19% of Canadian mothers who had a baby in the last five years breastfed for at least six months, without introducing other solids or liquids. Women using this method of feeding ranged from 10% in Quebec to 29% in British Columbia.

Health Indicators is produced by Statistics Canada and the Canadian Institute for Health Information. It provides a set of indicators that measures the health of the Canadian population and the health care system. These indicators are designed to provide comparable information at the Canada, provincial/territorial and health region level, and are based on standard definitions and methods.

Definitions, data sources and methods: survey numbers, including related surveys, 3226, 3207, 3231 and 3233.

The new issue of Health Indicators, 2005, no. 1 ( 82-221-XIE, free) is now available online. From the Our products and services page, under Browse our Internet publications, choose Free, then Health.

About Statistics Canada

Statistics Canada produces statistics that help Canadians better understand their country�its population, resources, economy, society and culture. In Canada, providing statistics is a federal responsibility. As Canada�s central statistical agency, Statistics Canada is legislated to serve this function for the whole of Canada and each of the provinces.