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BC: Healthiest in Canada
B.C. is in the pink
We're the healthiest in Canada, led by Lower Mainland and Victoria
Chad Skelton and Jonathan Fowlie, Vancouver Sun
Published: Wednesday, June 14, 2006
People in B.C. are the healthiest in Canada -- and those in the Lower Mainland and Victoria lead the pack.
Figures released Tuesday by Statistics Canada and the Canadian Institute of Health Information indicate that B.C. tops all other provinces on a number of health indicators.
Average life expectancy in B.C., for example, is 80.4 years -- the highest in the country and nearly a full year longer than the national average of 79.5.
B.C. also has the lowest smoking rate in the country (17.8 per cent, compared to 21.7 per cent nationwide) and the highest rate of physical activity (57.7 per cent, compared to 51 per cent nationwide).
But while B.C. fares well in the report -- based on a 2005 survey of more than 130,000 Canadians -- it also suggests there are wide gaps in health between the different regions of the province.
Take obesity, for example.
The survey defines someone as obese if they have a body mass index -- a calculation comparing a person's height and weight -- of more than 30.
Based on that definition, just 13.2 per cent of people in B.C. are considered obese -- the lowest rate in the country.
But that ranges from a low of eight per cent in Vancouver to a high of 23 per cent in northeast B.C.
In general, the statistics indicate residents of the Lower Mainland and Victoria are slimmer while those in the north and Interior are fatter.
Lawrence Frank, a professor of community planning at the University of B.C., said research shows obesity rates are lowest in walkable communities like Vancouver and highest in places where people must rely on cars to get around.
A study he conducted found that every additional hour a person spent in their car each day led to a six-per-cent increase in the risk of being obese.
Tuesday's survey also shows big regional differences in the rates of smoking and heavy drinking.
The lowest rate of smoking in the province is in Richmond, where just 13 per cent of people smoke.
But in Thompson-Cariboo -- the area around Kamloops and Williams Lake -- nearly one-quarter of the people (23 per cent) are smokers.
And in the northeast, 28 per cent of people smoke.
Joy Johnson, professor at UBC's school of nursing, said research shows there is a noticeable difference between smoking rates in different areas of the province, with higher rates of smoking mostly in the north and lower rates in the south.
"We often think about tobacco as an individual choice and I think it's important to bear in mind it's contextually driven as well," Johnson said Tuesday, adding family, friends and other elements in a person's life can influence a decision whether to smoke.
As an example, Johnson pointed to Vancouver, which she said has a very low rate of smoking in its schools.
"I think in part that has to do with the ethnic makeup of [Vancouver's] high school students at the present time," she said, explaining researchers have noticed a lower rate of smoking among Asian youth compared to non-Asian youth.
Johnson said this, along with aggressive anti-smoking bylaws, may also explain why Richmond has the lowest level of smoking in the province.
"There's a combination of factors at play," she said. "It's partly ethnic makeup, it's partly the fact there have been strong smoking ordinances in Richmond."
Johnson said rates are thought to be higher in northern areas largely because of a general culture of acceptance.
"If you go to northeastern B.C. there is a feeling that everybody smokes," she said. "That does influence behaviour, that's for sure."
Lorna Medd, medical officer of health for Prince George, acknowledged that northern residents have poorer health than those living in the south -- which she said is due to the impact things like income and education have on health.
"We simply don't fare well in the north on those parameters," she said.
She said the north could benefit from a provincewide ban on smoking in public places -- because few northern communities have municipal bans like those in Vancouver and Victoria.
The survey shows Richmond residents are also the least likely in the province to be heavy drinkers -- defined as having five or more drinks, 12 or more times a year.
Just 14 per cent of people in Richmond fit that definition.
The rate of heavy drinkers is more than twice as high in the Thompson-Cariboo, at 29 per cent, and the Kootenay-Boundary area is a close second at 28.5 per cent.
The Lower Mainland isn't tops in all categories, however.
Despite the many recreational opportunities on our doorstep, residents report relatively low rates of physical activity.
Only slightly more than half -- 55 per cent -- of Vancouver residents say they are active or moderately active.
The rates are even lower in Richmond, Surrey and the Fraser Valley.
The one exception is the North Shore, where 63.4 per cent of people say they lead an active lifestyle.
The most active people in the province are in the Victoria area, at 66.1 per cent.
On Tuesday, Victoria-area resident Kate Darling said she thinks this higher level of activity is largely due to the climate and surroundings.
"It is the beauty of the area," she said in an interview while on a five-kilometre walk to buy groceries.
"I'm from Ontario originally and I probably would not be doing this [if I were still there]," she added. "I just find the air intoxicating."
Darling added that an active community also tends to beget more activity, as friends encourage others to get outside.
The community health survey also asked people several questions about their connectedness to their community -- because research suggests strong communities encourage healthy living.
In that area, the Lower Mainland scored relatively poorly.
Asked if they felt a sense of belonging in their community, Vancouverites came dead last -- with just 62.6 per cent saying they had a "very strong" or "somewhat strong" sense of belonging.
Richmond fared only slightly better at 63.9 per cent.
In comparison, 79.2 per cent of people in northwest B.C. felt a strong tie to their community, followed by Kootenay-Boundary at 74.7 per cent.
Many people assume big-city living is more stressful than life in rural areas. But the survey suggests a more complex reality.
Only 18.2 per cent of Richmond residents said they had "quite a lot" of stress in their life -- the second-lowest rate in the province, just after north Vancouver Island at 15.8 per cent.
Vancouver was only slightly higher, at 21.8 per cent.
The outer suburbs of Vancouver are slightly more stressed -- with 22.9 per cent under "quite a lot" of stress in Surrey and 23.3 per cent in the Fraser Valley.
The most stressed community in the province, interestingly, is the North Shore -- with 25.9 per cent saying they are under quite a lot of stress.
An average of 10 key health indicators, compiled by The Vancouver Sun, suggests the residents of Victoria are the healthiest in the province and those in the northeast the least healthy.
But perhaps the best indicator of health is the most fundamental: how long people live.
On that score, the healthiest people in the province are in Richmond, where the average life expectancy is 83.4 years. The North Shore is second at 81.4.
People die the youngest in the northeast and northwest of the province, both of which have life expectancies of 77.7 years.
There are also some strange anomalies in the survey data.
The Okanagan -- where much of the province's fruit is grown -- has the second-worst rate of fruit and vegetable consumption in the province.
Only 35.3 per cent of Okanagan residents say they eat fruit or vegetables five or more times a day.
Residents of the East Kootenays are the most prolific fruit and vegetable eaters, at 48.4 per cent.
Bob Callioux, manager of Kelowna Farmers and Crafters Market, said he was surprised by the results, especially given how much produce is grown in the Okanagan area.
"Wow, that's incredible," he said about Kelowna's fruit and vegetable consumption. "I don't know who's doing the studies."
Asked if he eats more than five fruits or vegetables a day, Callioux admitted he doesn't always hit the recommended mark.
"Probably not more than five [a day] but close to it," he said. "I certainly try. I'm trying to get healthier."
Those living on the North Shore appear the most content with their own health, with 65.6 per cent rating their health status as "very good" or "excellent."
- - -
Fattest: Northeast B.C.
Drinking Lightest: Richmond
Highest: Northeast B.C.
Least: North Van. Island
Most: North Shore
Most fruits/veggies: East Kootenay
Least fruits/veggies: Northern Interior
A GREAT DIVIDE
The regions of British Columbia differ dramatically on many measures of health and lifestyle.
% of population with Body Mass Index of 30+
North Shore/Coast Garibaldi 8.5
(Burnaby and Tri-Cities) 11.5
South Vancouver Island 12.5
Fraser South (Surrey and Langley) 12.6
North Vancouver Island 14.2
Okanagan (Kelowna and Penticton) 14.4
Thompson/Cariboo (Kamloops and Williams Lake) 16.5
Central Vancouver Island 18.2
Fraser East (Fraser Valley) 18.5
East Kootenay 18.7
Northern Interior 20.4
Northwest B.C. 20.7
Northeast B.C. 22.6
% of population who have 5 or more drinks, 12 or more times a year
Fraser East (Fraser Valley) 18.3
North Shore/Coast Garibaldi 19.6
South Vancouver Island 20.2
Fraser North (Burnaby and Tri-Cities) 20.8
Fraser South (Surrey and Langley) 21.2
Okanagan (Kelowna and Penticton) 21.9
Central Vancouver Island 22
North Vancouver Island 22.4
Northern Interior 22.7
Northeast B.C. 24.9
East Kootenay 26.2
Northwest B.C. 26.3
Thompson/Cariboo (Kamloops and Williams Lake) 29.1
% of people who smoke
Fraser North (Burnaby and Tri-Cities) 14.4
North Shore/Coast Garibaldi 15.2
South Vancouver Island 15.9
Fraser South (Surrey and Langley) 17.5
Fraser East (Fraser Valley) 17.8
Okanagan (Kelowna and Penticton) 18.3
Central Vancouver Island 18.5
East Kootenay 20.6
Northwest B.C. 20.9
North Vancouver Island 21
Thompson/Cariboo (Kamloops and Williams Lake) 23.2
Northern Interior 24.3
Northeast B.C. 27.8
% of population who are active or moderately active
South Vancouver Island 66.1%
East Kootenay 64.8
North Vancouver Island 64.1
North Shore/Coast Garibaldi 63.4
Central Vancouver Island 63
Northwest B.C. 59.6
Thompson/Cariboo (Kamloops and Williams Lake) 57.1
Fraser North (Burnaby and Tri-Cities) 56.6
Okanagan (Kelowna and Penticton) 56.4
Northern Interior 55.5
Fraser South (Surrey and Langley) 53.6
Fraser East (Fraser Valley) 53.2
Northeast B.C. 49.5
% of population who say they suffer from "quite a lot" of stress
North Vancouver Island 15.8
Northeast B.C. 20.1
East Kootenay 22
Okanagan (Kelowna and Penticton) 22.1
Thompson/Cariboo (Kamloops and Williams Lake) 22.1
South Vancouver Island 22.2
Central Vancouver Island 22.4
Northwest B.C. 22.6
Fraser South (Surrey and Langley) 22.9
Fraser East (Fraser Valley) 23.3
Northern Interior 24.7
Fraser North (Burnaby and Tri-Cities) 25
North Shore/Coast Garibaldi 25.9
GOOD MENTAL HEALTH
% of population who describe their mental health as "very good or excellent"
North Shore/ Coast Garibaldi 74.7%
Fraser South (Surrey and Langley) 73.7
South Vancouver Island 73
Fraser East (Fraser Valley) 72.8
Okanagan (Kelowna and Penticton) 72.7
Northern Interior 72.1
Fraser North (Burnaby and Tri-Cities) 71.4
Thompson/Cariboo (Kamloops and Williams Lake) 71
Central Vancouver Island 70.8
Northeast B.C. 69.8
North Vancouver Island 69.5
East Kootenay 68
Northwest B.C. 67.5
% of population who say they have "very strong" or "somewhat strong" sense of community belonging
Northwest B.C. 79.2%
Thompson/Cariboo (Kamloops and Williams Lake) 74
North Vancouver Island 70.1
Okanagan (Kelowna and Penticton) 69.4
South Vancouver Island 69.3
North Shore/Coast Garibaldi 68.9
Central Vancouver Island 68.8
East Kootenay 67
Fraser East (Fraser Valley) 67
Fraser South (Surrey and Langley) 66.2
Northeast B.C. 66.2
Northern Interior 65.7
Fraser North (Burnaby and Tri-Cities) 64.2
% of population who describe their own health status as "very good" or "excellent"
North Shore/Coast Garibaldi 65.6%
South Vancouver Island 64.8
North Vancouver Island 62.3
East Kootenay 61.2
Fraser South (Surrey and Langley) 61.2
Fraser East (Fraser Valley) 60.7
Central Vancouver Island 59.4
Northern Interior 58.5
Fraser North (Burnaby and Tri-Cities) 57.9
Northwest B.C. 57.9
Okanagan (Kelowna and Penticton) 57.7
Thompson/Cariboo (Kamloops and Williams Lake) 57.3
Northeast B.C. 52.6
EATING FRUITS AND VEGETABLES
% of population who eat fruit or vegetables 5 or more times a day
East Kootenay 48.4%
South Vancouver Island 45.4
Central Vancouver Island 45.3
North Vancouver Island 45.1
Fraser North (Burnaby and Tri-Cities) 42.1
North Shore/Coast Garibaldi 41.2
Thompson/Cariboo (Kamloops and Williams Lake) 39
Northwest B.C. 38.2
Fraser South (Surrey and Langley) 37.5
Northeast B.C. 37.2
Fraser East (Fraser Valley) 36.5
Okanagan (Kelowna and Penticton) 35.3
Northern Interior 33.5
Average life expectancy at birth
North Shore/Coast Garibaldi 81.4
Fraser South (Surrey and Langley) 80.9
Fraser North (Burnaby and Tri-Cities) 80.7
South Vancouver Island 80.7
Okanagan (Kelowna and Penticton) 80.6
Fraser East (Fraser Valley) 79.7
Central Vancouver Island 79.6
East Kootenay 79.4
North Vancouver Island 79.4
Thompson/Cariboo (Kamloops and Williams Lake) 78.6
Northern Interior 78.1
Northwest B.C. 77.7
Northeast B.C. 77.7
Source: Most figures are based on the 2005 Statistics Canada Canadian Community Health Survey. Life expectancy figures come from Vital Statistics figures.
OVERALL AVERAGE RANKING
South Vancouver Island 4
North Shore/Coast Garibaldi 4.7
North Vancouver Island 6.9
Fraser South (Surrey and Langley) 7.4
Fraser North (Burnaby and Tri-Cities) 7.6
Central Vancouver Island 8.1
East Kootenay 8.2
Okanagan (Kelowna and Penticton) 8.4
Fraser East (Fraser Valley) 8.9
Thompson/Cariboo (Kamloops and Williams Lake) 9.9
Northwest B.C. 10.5
Northern Interior 12.3
Northeast B.C. 12.8
© The Vancouver Sun 2006