Employers central to improving Canadians’ health

Sun Life survey shows majority of Canadians avoid making healthy choices

TORONTO, Dec. 1, 2010 – Eating a balanced diet, being active and getting enough sleep are things we know we should do every day, but are we? According to the Sun Life Canadian Health Index(TM) compiled by Ipsos Reid, eight out of ten Canadians (81 per cent) believe that common diseases are completely or mostly preventable, yet almost two-thirds (63 per cent) have adopted a pattern of unhealthy behaviours.

For Canadian employers, a key finding of the Canadian Health Index indicates that more members of their workforce may be at risk of health issues than they may have thought. According to the Canadian Health Index, 60 per cent of Canadian employees have three or more unhealthy behaviours. These employees are more likely to incur higher group benefit costs due to absenteeism, drug claims and disability.(1) The study also reveals that 60 per cent of Canadians believe their employer has some responsibility when it comes to their health.

“The Canadian Health Index shows the majority of Canadians believe they have the primary responsibility for maintaining their health. But many are not taking the action required to turn unhealthy behaviours into good ones,” said Kevin Dougherty, President, Sun Life Financial Canada. “It’s clear Canadians understand the connection between maintaining a healthy lifestyle and preventing chronic diseases, now we just need to start taking action. Employers have a great opportunity to be part of the solution.”

The study asked respondents about six lifestyle choices related to smoking, exercise, diet, sleep, stress and water intake. Sixty-three per cent of Canadians report three or more unhealthy behaviours relating to these lifestyle choices. From a health perspective, lack of exercise, smoking and poor diet are major risk factors for diseases such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Diabetes and its complications alone cost the Canadian healthcare system an estimated $13.2 billion every year in direct and indirect costs, including physician care, medication and long-term disability.(2) Barriers to maintaining a healthy lifestyle included lack of willpower or motivation (61 per cent) followed by lack of time (46 per cent) and money (39 per cent).

“The good news is Canadians recognize their role in maintaining their own health, they just need the nudge or incentive that can help them overcome the barriers of willpower, time and money,” said Stuart Monteith, Senior Vice-President, Group Benefits, Sun Life Financial Canada. “Employee workplace wellness programs are a proven way to lower these barriers and help empower employees to take positive action to improve their health.”

Employers have a significant opportunity in supporting Canadians’ health and wellness

  • Employees with three or more risk factors are absent 50 per cent more often and use two to three times more in group health costs(3)
  • For every US$1.00 spent on wellness programs, medical costs fall by about US$3.27 and absenteeism costs fall by about US$2.73(4)
  • Plan members who quit smoking can save their employer about $3,396 per year(5)

For Canadians wanting to improve their health, Dr. Alan Stewart, Corporate Medical Director for Sun Life Financial, recommends a meeting with their primary care provider to discuss the development of a personal “healthy behaviour” lifestyle strategy. In addition, when available, employees should take advantage of company wellness programs that support healthy habit formation within the workplace.

Measuring Canadians’ attitudes, perceptions and behaviours about their health

The 2010 Sun Life Canadian Health Index(TM) measures the attitudes, perceptions and behaviours of Canadians relating to their personal health. This first of what will be a series of studies yielded an overall index score of 68.5 on a scale of 0 to 100. A person who scored high on the overall Sun Life Canadian Health Index(TM) also scored high on each of the individual attitudinal, behavioural and perceived health components.

The overall index is a blend of scores in three sub-indices: Perceived Health Index (score = 70.9), Attitudinal Health Index (score = 67) and Behaviour Health Index (score = 67.7).

For more information about the study, visit www.sunlife.ca/CanadianHealthIndex1.


These are just some of the findings of an Ipsos Reid/Sun Life Financial poll conducted from October 12 to 26, 2010. For this survey, a sample of 3,989 Canadians from 18 to 80 years of age from Ipsos’ Canadian online panel was interviewed online. Weighting was then employed to balance demographics and ensure that the sample’s composition reflects that of the adult population according to Census data and to provide results intended to approximate the sample universe. With a sample of this size, the results are considered accurate to within +/- 2 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, of what they would have been had the entire adult Canadian population been polled. The margin of error will be larger within regions and for other sub-groupings of the survey population. These data were weighted to ensure the sample’s regional and age/sex composition reflects that of the actual Canadian population according to the 2006 Census data. The Sun Life Canadian Health Index(TM) is composed of a series of sub-indices composing attitudinal, behavioural and perceived measures, each benchmarked to 100.

About Sun Life Financial

Sun Life Financial is a leading international financial services organization providing a diverse range of protection and wealth accumulation products and services to individuals and corporate customers. Chartered in 1865, Sun Life Financial and its partners today have operations in key markets worldwide, including Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Japan, Indonesia, India, China and Bermuda. As of September 30, 2010, the Sun Life Financial group of companies had total assets under management of CDN$455 billion. For more information please visit www.sunlife.com.

Sun Life Financial Inc. trades on the Toronto (TSX), New York (NYSE) and Philippine (PSE) stock exchanges under the ticker symbol SLF.

(1) National Quality Institute: Investing in Comprehensive Workplace Health Promotion, 2001
(2) The Canadian Institute of Health Research, 2005
(3) National Quality Institute:Investing in Comprehensive Workplace Health Promotion, 2001
(4) “Workplace Wellness Programs Can Generate Savings” Harvard University: Health Affairs. Baicker, Cutler & Song – February 2010
(5) Source: The Conference Board of Canada: “Smoking and the Bottom Line: Updating the Costs of Smoking in the Workplace” – August 2006