The major diseases affecting the quality and quantity of life of Canadians, which include obesity, diabetes, coronary artery disease, depression and cancer, are all linked to physical inactivity. In Canada, 69% of women and 68% of men in Canada are considered physically inactive.(1) The cost of this inactivity and obesity was estimated at $4.3 billion in 2001.(2) A 10% increase in physical activity could potentially reduce direct health care expenditures by $150 million a year. This does not include indirect costs such as lost productivity due to illness, premature death or a range of other factors, including mental illness and poor quality of life.(3)
Thus far, efforts to increase physical activity by changing the behaviour of individuals have had limited success. One reason is that many people have difficulty sustaining behaviours that involve additional time commitments. That is one reason for the increasing emphasis being placed on active transportation, which is any human-powered form of transportation, such as walking and cycling.
Walking and cycling can be efficient alternatives to automobile travel. Cycling is usually the fastest mode of travel door to door for distances under five km, and for up to 10 km in city cores. Walking is simpler and nearly as fast for distances up to two km. When travel times are similar for active and motorized transportation, physical activity is gained with no net time lost, and at much lower cost. The cost of operating a motor vehicle is typically $10,000 per year,(4) while operating costs for a bicycle are much lower.
Communities that have sidewalks, enjoyable scenery, street lights and nearby stores have improved levels of active transportation and physical activity. However, in recent decades communities have often been designed around the automobile. Street design, parking space, sidewalks and distance to retail destinations have all been planned assuming motorized transportation, and this often makes it difficult to move around communities by walking or cycling.
Although individual decision-making remains important in any strategy for increasing active transportation, there is an essential role for communities and governments to play. Major improvements in the health of Canadians in the past 200 years have been due to improved sanitation, access to clean water and injury prevention. The role of individual decision-making in effecting these changes is dwarfed by the impact of the public health measures and infrastructure involved. Just as potable tap water is a health issue, so are decisions about land use, transportation policy and infrastructure.
Community design is a major determinant of whether people use active transportation, whether they are physically active and whether they are obese. Canadians need communities that make it easy to be physically active in their daily living.
Communities can create an environment in which the physically active choice is the easy choice. They can do this via sidewalks, trails, bicycle lanes and bicycle paths, and by providing pedestrian-friendly intersections, parks and green spaces, and safe bicycle parking spaces. They can also arrange zoning so that retail destinations are within walking or cycling distance of residential areas. This process also includes dedicating a sufficient portion of their street maintenance budget (including snow clearing) to maintaining active transportation routes as well as routes for motorized vehicles. It may include redesigning intersections, giving up vehicle lanes or parking spaces, or increasing the price of parking.
Additional benefits to designing communities for pedestrians and cyclists.
* a stronger sense of community with greater civic involvement by citizens
* increased property values and retail activity
* less noise pollution
* lower crime rates
* less smog and other air pollution
* less greenhouse gas production
* decreased risk of injury to pedestrians and cyclists
* decreased costs of roadway and parking construction.
A role for everyone
Other sectors can support communities in making active transportation choices easy choices:
* Businesses can create a work environment friendly to active transportation, including a corporate culture friendly to physical activity. They can incorporate active transportation planning into building design and create an environment friendly to physical activity. These steps could include making bicycle parking, showers and lockers available, and providing stairs that are pleasant and easier to access than elevators. They can also incorporate a culture of physical activity in decisions about where and how to hold meetings, and what people are allowed to wear to work.
* School boards can develop policies to promote active transportation to and from school. These include building and maintaining secure bicycle parking, ensuring safe walking routes within communities, and assisting parents in walking their children to school.
* Citizens can use active transportation themselves and treat with respect those who are already making active transportation choices. They can also lobby governments to make their community safer and easier places for cycling and walking.
* Physicians can encourage patients to use active transportation as a way to boost their physical activity levels and improving their health. They can also lead by example and use active transportation themselves.
The CMA recommends that all sectors (government, business and the public) work together, as a matter of priority, to create a culture in their communities that supports and encourages active transportation.
The CMA urges governments to:
* Commit to long-term plans for active transportation networks that are in keeping with these goals and that include specific benchmarks to measure progress.
* Require that active transportation be part of all infrastructure renewal projects, with investment in active transportation vs. motorized transportation in proportion to targeted active transportation use. (Some cities have achieved active transportation rates of up to 15%.)
* Develop an awareness campaign to help Canadians to recognize the value of active transportation in their communities.
* Require public health impact assessments for all land-use and transportation decisions, including the impact on the chemical environment and on physical activity.
* Assess the impact that changes in the "built" environment can have on public health, and which interventions are most safe and effective.
1 Tremblay MS, Katzmarzyk PT, Willms JD. Temporal trends in overweight and obesity in Canada, 1981-1996. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord 2002;26(4):538-43.
2 Katzmarzyk PT, Janssen I. The economic costs associated with physical inactivity and obesity in Canada: an update. Can J App Phys 2004;29(1):104.
3 Katzmarzyk PT, Gledhill N, Shephard RJ. The economic burden of physical inactivity in Canada. CMAJ 2000;163(11): 1435-40.
4 Canadian Automobile Association. Driving Costs: 2005 Edition. Available: www.carpool.ca/pdf/CAA-driving-costs-05.pdf (accessed 2007 Feb. 2).
Health care professionals, including physicians, play an essential role in promoting health and preventing disease among all Canadians. A significant proportion of death, illness and injury in Canada is preventable. These preventable health problems place a substantial burden of suffering on individuals, families and communities as well as a heavy burden on society because they draw on scarce health care resources.
The World Health Organization defines health promotion as "the process of enabling people to increase control over and improve their health." Health promotion activities generally seek to influence either a person’s individual behaviours such as smoking and sedentary lifestyle. Effective health promotion also addresses the broader social determinants of health, for example, income, access to services and physical environment.
The CMA views prevention and health promotion as a responsibility to be shared among all health care providers, rather than the sole responsibility of any one group or specialty.
At a collective level, medical and other health organizations can be involved in prevention and health-promotion activities such as organizing public education campaigns, advocating for legislation that promotes health, such as laws to control pollution and tobacco products, and disseminating clinical practice guidelines to enhance standards of preventive care.
At an individual level, the role of physicians in the continuum of patient care is an important one, with the potential for further enhancement, and can include:
Health enhancement: As part of daily practice, physicians routinely offer information to support the prevention of disease. These activities include appropriate discussions with patients about nutrition, physical activity and access to social supports. In providing these services, physicians consider the social, economic and environmental conditions in which their patients live.
Risk avoidance: Physicians ensure that people take measures that will prevent specific risks of disease. Examples include providing immunizations, promoting breast-feeding, physical activity and the use of bicycle helmets.
Risk reduction: Physicians screen, counsel and work with individuals or segments of the population at higher risk of disease or injury to reduce their risk. Examples include screening for risk factors for the development of heart disease or diabetes, such as nutrition, smoking and alcohol use.
Early identification: Physicians screen people to detect diseases at an asymptomatic stage, when intervention can improve the outcome. Papanicolaou smears to detect cancer of the cervix and breast exams to detect breast cancer are two types of tests being used in early detection. With the increase in public awareness and interest in prevention, physicians often spend time with their patients discussing the pros and cons of tests such as mammographic screening of women and the prostate-specific antigen screening test for men.
Complication reduction: Physicians can prescribe therapy to prevent complications in patients with diagnosed conditions or diseases. For example, the use of medication to reduce the incidence of stroke or myocardial infarction in high risk patients.
1) Physicians should continue to incorporate all levels of health promotion and disease prevention into their practices, emphasizing activities for which there is sufficient scientific evidence.
2) Education in prevention and health promotion both at an individual and at a collective level, should be given high priority in undergraduate medical programs, in residency training and in continuing medical education.
3) Physicians should be encouraged to work with other health care professionals in the office setting and the community to enhance delivery of care that incorporates prevention and health promotion.
4) Remuneration systems should support a multidisciplinary approach to the delivery of these services; they should also support the provision of these services by individual physicians.
5) Patients should have access to a family physician who can provide care that includes prevention and health promotion. Family physicians should continue to develop professional relationships with their patients that encourage the long-term promotion and maintenance of good health.
6) Clear, simple and current guidelines for prevention and health promotion services should be widely distributed to physicians. The Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care regularly develops and updates guidelines in this area.
7) Simple, easy-to-understand patient guidelines for prevention and health promotion should be developed and made available to the public. Physicians should continue to develop, improve and promote patient-counselling programs and office-management systems that encourage effective delivery of preventive care and health promotion.
8) Governments should give high priority to public policies that take account of the broad range of determinants of health, and proposed legislation should be routinely reviewed for any impact on the health of individuals and the community. CMA, in collaboration with other health professions and governments, will continue to explore means to ensure that public policies are developed with due attention paid to their potential health consequences.
Approved by the CMA Board in 2001.
Last reviewed and approved by the CMA Board in March 2019.
FIREARMS CONTROL (UPDATE 2001)
Firearms are a major cause of death and injury in Canada and account for nearly 1,400 deaths annually. The CMA has made several recommendations to governments and other bodies undertaking legislative review and public policy change. These recommendations relate to the regulation of firearms, education for the safe handling of firearms, broad-based violence prevention programs, and research and information provision. In addition, the CMA has produced guidelines to assist physicians in identifying and counselling patients at risk of violent behaviour and in reporting patients at risk.
Firearms are a major cause of death and injury in Canada.. The cost to society of firearm-related injury, particularly spinal cord and head injuries, is considerable.
Over the short term, policy should focus on firearms and the user. Applying stringent controls on firearms, however, may have little effect on the rates of death and injury if the underlying problems of violence in society are not addressed.
In an effort to accommodate both short-term and long-term solutions the CMA recommends the following to governments and bodies undertaking legislative review and public policy change.
The object of regulation should be to deter people at risk for violent or self-destructive behaviour from having easy access to firearms. A regulatory policy should address (a) the acquisition of firearms (e.g., licensing of firearms and/or users, processes to screen would-be purchasers who are at risk), b) secure firearm and ammunition storage methods and modifications to firearms that would render them less accessible to children or those acting on violent impulses and (c) severe penalties for offenses such as the use of a firearm in the commission of a crime or an act of violence, including family violence.
Training in safe handling of firearms is strongly recommended, particularly for all first-time firearm users. Broader-based education programs aimed at the prevention of violence (e.g., in schools) may also be efficacious and should be evaluated for their impact in reducing violence.
Research and information provision
CMA encourages research in a number of areas, including the following.
Firearm surveillance: the types of firearms or classes of ammunition disproportionately involved in intentional deaths and injuries, the circumstances surrounding a firearm incident (e.g., argument between friends, alcohol involvement) and data on injuries and deaths.
Determination of behavioural or environmental risk factors for violent behaviour: the relative risk or benefit of keeping a firearm at home for protection i.e.. the scientific assessment of the deterrence effect):
The effects of factors such as alcohol, drug use and family history of violence on the risk of violent death; and how accurately experts can identify people at risk.
Case-control and cohort studies on gun control, crime and the antecedents of violent behaviour.
Evaluation of education programs that discourage firearm-related violence or promote safe handling of firearms.
Role of physicians
The CMA recommends that physicians consider the following guidelines.
Management of patients at risk
It is not always possible to identify people at risk of violent or self-destructive behaviour; however, the CMA recommends that physicians be alert to warning signs that a patient may be at risk and manage that patient accordingly. For example, always ask depressed patients about suicidal and homicidal thoughts and plans (asking will not plant ideas); admit suicidal patients to hospital, even against their will, particularly if they do not have supportive families who can monitor them at home; have the family remove all firearms from the home of a patient at risk; and monitor the patient frequently, writing small prescriptions if medication is required.
Good clinical judgement and close follow-up are perhaps the most effective ways of managing a self-destructive or violent patient.
Reporting of patients at risk
No specific guidelines exist for the reporting of patients at risk of violent behaviour. The physician should consider whether the risk of harm to society (or a third party) posed by a patient outweighs that patient's right to confidentiality.
Counselling and public advocacy
A physician may be asked for a reference for an applicant of a firearms acquisition certificate. Before providing the reference the physician should consider the applicant carefully for risk factors, recommend appropriate firearms training and caution against the concomitant use of firearms, alcohol and other drugs.
A physician should become an advocate for nonviolent conflict resolution. As research accumulates about the most effective interventions for nonviolent conflict resolution the health sector may be able to draw on this research to work to reduce violence in society.
Like motor vehicle and bicycle safety, firearm safety is a public health issue. The CMA holds that physicians, as advocates for the health of Canadians, can help reduce firearm-related damage and address the concomitant underlying problem of violence in society.
The CMA recommends to the appropriate government authorities that all boxing be banned in Canada. Until such time, strategies to prevent injury should be pursued.
The CMA considers boxing a dangerous sport. While most sports involve risk of injury, boxing is distinct in that the basic intent of the boxer is to harm and incapacitate his or her opponent.
Boxers are at significant risk of injuries resulting in brain damage. Boxers are susceptible not only to acute life-threatening brain trauma, but also to the chronic and debilitating effects of gradual cerebral atrophy. Studies demonstrate a correlation between the number of bouts fought and the presence of cerebral abnormalities in boxers. There is also a risk of eye injury including long-term damage such as retinal tears and detachments.
- CMA supports a ban on professional and amateur boxing in Canada.
- Until boxing is banned in this country, the following preventive strategies should be pursued to reduce brain and eye injuries in boxers:
- Head blows should be prohibited. CMA encourages universal use of protective garb such as headgear and thumbless, impact-absorbing gloves
- The World Boxing Council, World Boxing Association and other regulatory bodies should develop and enforce objective brain injury risk assessment tools to exclude individual boxers from sparring or fighting.
- The World Boxing Council, World Boxing Association and other regulatory bodies should develop and enforce standard criteria for referees, ringside officials and ringside physicians to halt sparring or boxing bouts when a boxer has experienced blows that place him or her at imminent risk of serious injury.
- The World Boxing Council, World Boxing Association and other regulatory bodies should encourage implementation of measures advocated by the World Medical Boxing Congress to reduce the incidence of brain and eye injuries.
- CMA believes that the professional responsibility of the physician who serves in a medical capacity in a boxing contest is to protect the health and safety of the contestants. The desire of spectators, promoters of the event, or even injured athletes that they not be removed from the contest should not influence the physician’s medical judgment.
- Further long term outcome data should be obtained from boxers in order to more accurately establish successful preventive interventions. CMA encourages ongoing research into the causes and treatments of boxing-related injuries, and into the effects of preventive strategies.
Health, health care and the environment are linked inextricably. Environmental contaminants have been associated with compromised health status, including cancer, birth defects, respiratory and cardiovascular illness, gastrointestinal ailments and death - and an increased demand for a range of health care services.
The health sector is a significant part of Canada's economy, contributing approximately 10% of gross domestic product (GDP). Thus, the sector uses considerable energy, consumes large quantities of plastics, paper and other resources, and produces significant solid, liquid and gaseous waste. With the improvement of health care technologies and a growing awareness of environmentally responsible practices, there is an increased opportunity for reducing the health sector's environmental footprint. Although there are important health, financial and ethical reasons for adopting such practices in the health sector, a number of challenges exist, including financial, technical and administrative challenges.
We envision the health sector as a leader in integrating environmentally responsible practices into the delivery of health care. We also see it as an advocate in sharing information on best practices and encouraging Canadians and Canadian organizations to limit their environmental footprint. In a green health sector, minimizing negative impact on the environment would be a priority for all organizations and individuals in their day-to-day practices and at all levels of decision-making.
A collaborative approach
Achieving our vision requires a collaborative approach to delivering environmentally responsible health care. For example:1
Greener health infrastructure
* support investment in renewing physical plant infrastructure that allows for the retrofit of facilities that function more efficiently, use cleaner technologies and meet new environmental standards for energy efficiency, water management and waste management
* educate staff and the public on the link between health and the environment and on the health impact of environmental degradation, and help in the development, dissemination and implementation of knowledge and best practices
* support and encourage research on health and the environment, and on environmentally responsible practices in a variety of health care settings
* implement energy-conserving techniques and products
* request rationalized packaging and other environmentally responsible actions from vendors of health care products
* promote safer substitutes to reduce exposure to toxic substances
* reduce waste by reusing and recycling when possible
* practise safe disposal practices for biomedical and infectious waste, outdated medications, and polyvinyl plastics, mercury and other toxic substances
* establish green teams to support the practice of ecologic stewardship
We recognize that our efforts to achieve a greener health sector must fit into broader societal and global actions to improve the environment. The health sector plays a role in supporting the efforts of all Canadians to find environmentally responsible ways to perform their daily activities by contributing to the management of global environmental issues, such as greenhouse gas emissions and toxic waste disposal.
Calls to Action
We call on governments and policymakers at all levels to understand and address links between health and the environment and to incorporate these links into policy decisions through legislative and budgetary actions.
We call on all health care organizations to pledge to minimize the negative impact of their activity on the environment and to seek solutions to existing barriers.
We call on individuals working in the health sector to both model and advocate for environmentally responsible approaches to delivering health care without compromising patient safety and care.
Association of Canadian Academic Healthcare Organizations
Canadian Coalition for Green Health Care
Canadian College of Health Service Executives
Canadian Dental Association
Canadian Healthcare Association
Canadian Medical Association
Canadian Nurses Association
Canadian Pharmacists Association
Canadian Public Health Association
David Suzuki Foundation
Developed by a working group of the above organizations
1 Canadian Nurses Association/Canadian Medical Association. Joint position statement: Environmentally responsible activity in the health care sector. Ottawa. 2009