Public health programs and prevention account for, on average, only 3% of health spending, says OECD

New report releases comparative data for 30 countries on health status, resources, spending and other factors that influence health

November 8, 2005-A new report released today by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) shows that, on average, only 3% of total health expenditure in OECD countries goes toward population-wide prevention and public health programs, while most of the spending is focused on “sick care.” According to the OECD, most countries have developed national strategies for public health improvement that include immunization programs, disease screening and other steps to reduce the population’s risk of developing communicable and non-communicable diseases. However, only a small proportion of health spending goes toward these types of initiatives.

This is just one of many trends and developments explored in Health at a Glance-OECD Indicators 2005. The publication presents comparative data on four key dimensions: health status (life expectancy and leading causes of mortality), health care resources and their utilization (practising physicians and nurses, medical technologies, vaccination coverage among children and elderly people and hospital activities), health expenditure (including a breakdown of spending on curative care, pharmaceuticals and public health programs) and non-medical determinants of health (tobacco, alcohol and food consumption, as well as overweight and obesity rates).

The Canadian Institute for Health Information and Statistics Canada are responsible for providing Canadian data to the OECD, in accordance with reporting standards and guidelines provided by the OECD. Health at a Glance—OECD Indicators 2005 is available on the OECD Web site, at

Canadian highlights from the OECD report include:

  • Public health and prevention: Canadian children were immunized against measles in 2002 at roughly the same rate (95%) as children in other OECD countries (94% median in 2003). However, when it came to diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (DTP), the percentage of Canadian children immunized in 1998 (84%) was lower than that of the OECD median (96% in 2000). The elderly, on the other hand, were more likely to get a flu shot in Canada than in most OECD countries. Canada ranked seventh out of 17 reporting countries, with 62% of those aged 65 and over getting influenza vaccinations in 2003.
  • Mortality rates by disease: The mortality rate due to cardiovascular disease was lower in Canada (182 per 100,000 population) than in most OECD countries (2001 and 2002 rates). Only Japan (130), France (153) and Spain (176) had lower rates per 100,000 population. However, in 2001, Canadians died of lung cancer at a higher rate per 100,000 population (47) than the OECD median (37 in 2002). Since the 1960s, the rate of death due to lung cancer for males has nearly doubled in Canada, while the death rate for females increased by nearly seven times.
  • Apparent food consumption: Canada’s sweet tooth is second only to that of the United States. Canadians consumed more sugar per capita (an estimated 60 kilograms) in 2002 than did those living in any of the 30 OECD countries, except for the U.S. (an estimated 72 kilograms). The OECD median was an estimated 45 kilograms per capita. However, Canadians ate more vegetables per capita (an estimated 250 kilograms) than the OECD median (an estimated 192 kilograms per person).
  • Life expectancy at birth: Canada ranked eighth among the 30 OECD countries for life expectancy at birth, at 79.7 years in 2002. Japan had the highest life expectancy, at 81.8 in 2003. However, when looking at life expectancy by gender, Canadian men ranked fifth among OECD countries, while Canadian women ranked eighth.
  • Number of physicians: In Canada, there are fewer physicians per capita than in most other OECD countries. In 2003, Canada had 2.1 physicians per 1,000 population. The Canadian rate is similar to those of Japan, the United Kingdom and New Zealand, but below the OECD median of 3.1 per 1,000.
  • Number of nurses: In 2003, Canada’s number of nurses per 1,000 population was 9.8-above the OECD median of 7.5 per 1,000.

* Comparisons are made using the latest data available from each country.

About CIHI

The Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) collects and analyzes information on health and health care in Canada and makes it publicly available. Canada’s federal, provincial and territorial governments created CIHI as a not-for-profit, independent organization dedicated to forging a common approach to Canadian health information. CIHI’s goal: to provide timely, accurate and comparable information. CIHI’s data and reports inform health policies, support the effective delivery of health services and raise awareness among Canadians of the factors that contribute to good health.