The Built Environment is part of the overall ecosystem of our earth. It encompasses all the buildings, spaces and products that are created, or at least significantly modified by people. It includes our homes, schools and workplaces, parks, business areas and roads. It extends overhead in the form of electric transmission lines, underground in the form of waste disposal sites and subway trains and across the country in the form of highways (Health Canada, 1997)."
The built environment affects every one of us every day, and mounting evidence suggests that it can play a significant role in our state of health and well-being. This policy statement provides the perspective of the Canadian Medical Association on how the built environment can influence health, and what all sectors in society might do to ensure that community design and development takes the health of residents into consideration.
In the 19th century, the industrial revolution attracted hordes of people into cities. Congestion, squalid living conditions, and lack of clean water, clean air, and proper sewage systems led to outbreaks of diseases such as cholera and tuberculosis. These events, coupled with the development of the germ theory, served as a catalyst for public and professional awareness of how the built environment has direct health impacts; clean water, fresh air, uncongested living conditions, and proper housing were all recognized as constituents of good health.
During the past three decades, the 'Healthy Cities' movement has brought a renewed interest to the health implications of the built environment by focusing on disease prevention through community design. Over the years this idea has proliferated, and a body of literature has grown revealing the large scope of health risk factors that may be influenced by the built environment. The literature indicates that the following connections between the built environment and public health are possible:
o Decreased physical activity
o Increased prevalence of obesity
o Increased prevalence of asthma and other respiratory diseases
o Injuries and unintended fatalities
o Heat exposure. (Frank , Kavage S, & Devlin A, 2012) (Franks, Kavage & Devlin, 2012; Health Canada 2013)
There is also mounting evidence that these factors may be compounded for vulnerable populations such as children, the elderly, and those living in poverty.
Smart Growth is an urban planning and transportation theory that became popular almost two decades ago. Though different organizations may differ slightly in their view of what smart growth means, its general aims are to build compact accessible cities that avoid urban sprawl and mitigate auto-dependence. The 'Smart Growth' movement contains tenets that research supports in creating healthy built environments such as mixed land uses, providing transportation alternatives like walking and bicycle infrastructure and public transit, and creating walkable neighbourhoods. (Smart Growth BC, 2012)(See definitions)
What the Research Is Telling Us
Canada's physical activity guidelines recommend that children from 5 to 11 should be active for at least 60 minutes a day; those 18 and over should be active for at least 150 minutes per week. (Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology, 2011). Participation in regular physical activity bestows substantial health benefits; it can lengthen and improve quality of life and reduce the risk for many physical and mental health conditions. Physical activity can improve overall fitness, lower risk for heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure, lower risk for non-insulin dependent diabetes and the risk of overweight. (Dannenberg, Frumkin, & Jackson, 2011) Physical activity includes more than exercise and leisure time activity, it also includes active transportation such as walking to school, work or errands as part of daily living.
One of the most important determinants of physical activity is a person's neighbourhood. (Jackson & Kochtotzky) Research shows that urban sprawl, access to parks and recreation/fitness facilities, and neighbourhood walkability all may have an impact on physical activity levels (Cutts, Darby, Boone, & Brewis, 2009; Ewing, Schmid, Killingsworth, Zlot, & Raudenbush, 2003).
Individuals living in walkable neighbourhood with a mix of land uses and interconnected street networks were found to be 2-4 times more likely to achieve 30 minutes moderate physical activity a day. Urban design characteristics associated with higher physical activity rates include pedestrian-oriented street and site design, parks, trails, playgrounds and other recreational facilities within walking distance and sidewalks. (Frank , Kavage S, & Devlin A, 2012)
A barrier to physical activity can be the perception of the lack of a safe place to be active. Safety concerns keep 1 in 5 Canadians from walking or bicycling. Urban design that encourages walking and cycling can improve perceived neighbourhood safety. (Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, 2011)
There are unique barriers to active modes of transportation in rural communities. Rural environments often lack pedestrian facilities and bike lanes; stores, schools, jobs, and services are sometimes located far apart from homes; and parks and recreation facilities are rare. Understanding these barriers is the first step towards finding opportunities to remove them. (Active Living Research and the Public Health Institute, 2013)
CMA' policy on Active Transportation 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 and physical activity.
Increased prevalence of obesity
Obesity has almost doubled in the past 3 decades; in 1978 the measured obesity rate was 13.8% and in 2008 the measured obesity rate was 25.4% (PHAC/CIHI, 2011). Obesity is associated with high blood pressure, stroke, and heart disease, which are among the leading causes of disability and death (Statistics Canada, 2008). Mental health conditions, type II diabetes, several types of cancer, among many other diseases, are also linked to obesity (Guh, Zhang, Bansback, Amarsi, Birmingham, & Anis, 2009). The combined cost of obesity and these related conditions was estimated to be $4.3 billion dollars in 2005 (Public Health Agency of Canada, 2012).
There are many factors involved in this increase, but a causal indicator is the decline in physical activity among Canadians: In 2005, 47% of Canadians were reported as being 'inactive' (Human Resource and Skills Development Canada, 2006).
Urban design that encourages sedentary living habits such as work, home, school and shopping separated by distances that discourage walking, parking lots built as close as possible to final destinations not only discourage walking but encourage automobile usage. (Jackson, Kochtitzky, CDC) Less walkable, auto dependent built environments have been correlated with higher body weights and obesity. (Frank , Kavage S, & Devlin A, 2012)
Furthermore, research indicates that the food environment that we live in, and the amount of healthy food choices we have access to, can affect the chance of becoming obese as well. For example, neighbourhoods with a high density of fast food restaurants or neighbourhoods with poor access to grocery stores (food deserts) have both been correlated with obesity (Larsen & Gilliland, 2008; Cummins & Macintyre, 2006; Frank L. D., 2009).
Increased prevalence of asthma and other respiratory diseases
In August 2008, the CMA released a report estimating that the effects of air pollution would result in 11,000 hospital admissions and 21,000 deaths Canada wide, totaling a financial cost of close to $8.1 billion dollar (Canadian Medical Association, 2008). Carbon monoxide, sulfur and nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds, ozone, and lead, among other toxins, are emitted into the air every day from industrial processes and car exhaust. These air-borne chemicals are associated with heart disease, cancer, acute respiratory illness, and the aggravation of other respiratory illnesses such as asthma (Frank L. D., 2009). While the built environment does not directly produce these chemicals, it has a role to play in where those chemicals are emitted, where they are concentrated, and, in the case of vehicles, how much of them are produced.
Urban sprawl has been tied to longer commute times and higher total vehicle miles traveled per person. Neighbourhood design and walkability have been identified as factors that can affect number of vehicle trips taken and transportation mode choice, and increased mixed land use has been identified as a factor that could further decrease emission rates (Newman & Kenworthy, 1989; Frank, Sallis, Conway, Chapman, Saelens, & Bachman, 2006).
Injuries and unintentional fatalities
Transport-related injuries accounted for a total of $3.7 billion dollars in healthcare costs in Canada in 2009 (SmartRisk, 2009). The majority of this financial burden was related to motor vehicle, pedestrian, and cycling accidents. Death and injuries from these types of incidents typically happen at a younger age which both
increases the years of life lost due to death or disability and the financial burden of continuing care (SmartRisk, 2009).
The built environment perhaps has the most identifiable and direct correlation to this category of impacts. Designs of auto-oriented environments that promote high traffic volume, high traffic speed, and low accessibility for pedestrians and cyclists lead to increased incidence of injuries and fatalities (Surface Transportation Policy Partnership, 2002).
Increased prevalence of illness and death related to heat exposure
The 'urban heat island effect' is a phenomenon correlated with urban environments that are primarily asphalt and concrete and lack vegetation and green space. Such environments have been estimated to have anywhere from 1oC to 12oC higher surface level temperatures in comparison to rural areas (United States Environmental Protection Agency, 2012). This can be especially dangerous for elderly individuals in the summertime and studies have demonstrated increased mortality amongst these populations during hot summers (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2009). This is not only an issue of building materials and the balance of green space but has to do with isolation as well: If elderly residents have poor access to public transportation they may not be able to reach air-conditioned facilities.
Noise - be it from transport, industry, neighbours, or construction - is a prominent feature of the urban environment. Prolonged exposure to environmental noise has been directly linked to physical and psychosocial health outcomes, including hypertension, high blood pressure and heart disease, hearing impairment, stress levels, and sleep. There is some evidence linking noise to reduced ability to concentrate and more aggressive behavior. (Stansfeld SA, 2003)
In general, denser neighbourhoods have higher levels of ambient noise through the concentration of more people, traffic, and activities. However, as with air pollution, noise exposure is extremely site-specific and not necessarily exclusive to walkable or auto-oriented neighbourhoods. (Frank , Kavage S, & Devlin A, 2012) Canadian noise mapping data would assist researchers in assessing how environmental noise affects health and assist communities to proactively manage noise pollution.
The research shows that certain built environment characteristics may affect specific populations such as children, the elderly, low-income populations.
Children: Overweight and obesity is an issue for Canadians nationwide, but particularly so for children. Between 1978 to 2004 there was a 70% increase in overweight and obese children aged 12-17 (Statistics Canada, 2006). Obesity in children can lead to health issues such as hypertension, glucose intolerance, and orthopedic complications (Statistics Canada, 2006). Furthermore obesity in childhood has a high likelihood of carrying over into adulthood and may result in further health problems such as diabetes and heart disease (Statistics Canada, 2006). With this in mind, environments that promote physical activity are especially important for this segment of the population. Living in mixed use communities with walkable destinations, parks and recreational facilities is related to greater physical activity. (Dannenburg, Frumkin & Jackson, 2011)
Elderly: The elderly population is generally less physically robust and more prone to chronic illnesses, which make them especially vulnerable to air pollution and heat exposure. Physical activity is an important aspect of daily life for this age group as it has been shown to reduce the negative health impacts of aging (Vogel, Brechat, Lepetre, Kaltenbach, Berthel, & Lonsdorfer, 2009). Being physically active however, requires accessible and safe streets that cater to the needs of individuals with mobility issues. Special consideration is required when constructing the built environment to ensure the needs of this growing population.
CMA's policy on Health and Health Care Principles for an Aging Population recommends that communities take the needs and potential limitations of older Canadians into account when designing buildings, walkways, transportation systems or other aspects of the built environment.
Low Income Populations: Low income populations are at higher risk for chronic illnesses such as high blood pressure and diabetes, and have a lower overall survivability for major heart attacks (Centre for Chronic Disease Prevention and Control. , 2002; Statistics Canada, 1996-97). They are also more likely to smoke, be overweight or obese, and are less likely to be physically active (Creatore, Gozdyra, Booth, & Glazier, 2007). Many of these factors may be due to limited access to stable housing, housing location (normally close to highways or industrial zones with high pollution exposure), neighbourhood safety, and lack of access to or affordability of healthy food options.
Planning and public health combined efforts in the 19th century to improve living conditions. Today there is a need for health care practitioners, particularly those in the public health field, and community planners to work together, to share their expertise and efforts, to improve the health and well-being of Canadians. By designing communities that encourage and support healthy living - physical activity, healthy weights, access to healthy foods - we can address some of the risk factors for many chronic diseases and create supportive, active communities.
Health Care Associations can:
o Advocate for health supportive environments by increasing the public and policy makers' understanding of the impact of the built environment on health.
o Advocate for the contribution that public health professionals can make to urban planning and development to ensure that population health impacts are recognized and mitigated.
o Provide community planners with strong public health arguments and health data to support healthy communities.
Health Care Professionals can:
o Incorporate an awareness of a patient's built environment (such as housing, access to transportation and healthy foods) into treatment programs and health counseling.
o Encourage your community to adopt policies and design principles that build healthy supportive environments.
Federal, Provincial and Local Governments can:
o Integrate concepts of population health into urban planning.
o Promote multidisciplinary planning teams, including professionals in medicine, public health and community design to ensure that all stakeholders take health impacts into account.
o Incorporate health impact assessments into community planning and development initiatives in the public sector.
o Encourage the private sector to provide infrastructure and amenities in developments that promote healthy living.
The Public can:
o Learn more about the connection between the built environment and health and advocate for positive change.
o Become involved in public consultations regarding local community planning and development.
o Develop research projects at the Federal level on the impact of the built environment on health to inform and help coordinate programs and initiatives at the provincial and local levels.
o Focus on creating a standardized set of health indicators that can be uniformly applied to assess the status of a community's built environment.
o Research into the effectiveness of policy options on various communities (urban, suburban, rural).
It is important that we acknowledge how our surroundings can affect our lives and health, and work together to create positive change. The CMA is willing to work with other people and organizations to ensure that the influence of the built environment on health receives the attention that it warrants with the ultimate goal of building or re-inventing healthy communities for all Canadians.
In order of appearance
Inactive: "Respondents are classified as active, moderately active or inactive based on an index of average daily physical activity over the past 3 months. For each leisure time physical activity engaged in by the respondent, an average daily energy expenditure is calculated by multiplying the number of times the activity was performed by the average duration of the activity by the energy cost (kilocalories per kilogram of body weight per hour) of the activity. The index is calculated as the sum of the average daily energy expenditures of all activities. Respondents are classified as follows: 3.0 kcal/kg/day or more = physically active; 1.5 to 2.9 kcal/kg/day = moderately active; less than 1.5 kcal/kg/day = inactive". (Human Resource and Skills Development Canada, 2006).
Urban Sprawl: "A particular type of suburban development characterized by very low-density settlements, both residential and non-residential; dominance of movement by use of private automobiles, unlimited outward expansion of new subdivisions and leap-frog developments of these subdivisions; and segregation of land uses by activity." (United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, 1999)
Walkability: Walkability refers to the ease with which pedestrians can move within and between environments. The literature gives varied definitions but the main variable to consider are the following: mixed land use (defined below), proximity to destinations (accessibility and convenience), pedestrian facilities (sidewalks, urban furniture etc...), street connectivity (short block lengths, availability of multiple alternate routes etc...), aesthetics (landscape, vegetation, architecture), presences of public spaces (parks, plazas, etc...), presence of traffic calming measures (lower speed limits, street narrowing, speed bumps etc...), and access to transit. (Shay, Spoon, & Khattak, 2003)
Transportation Mode Choice: Transportation mode choice refers to an individuals decision regarding how to get from one destination to another. The theory behind mode choice is complex and involves characteristics of the built environment, socio-demographic and socioeconomic variables, benefit-cost analysis, and personal preference. (Cervero, Built Environments and Mode Choice: Toward a Normative Framework, 2002)
Mixed Land Use: "Land use mix is the composition of uses within a given geographic area." (Cervero, Land Use Mixing and Suburban Mobility, 1998) The uses referred to can be restaurants, offices, studios, shops, or any variety of business, institution, natural space, or recreation site. In the literature there are various indices and equations used to measure the degree of 'mixed land use' in an area.
Urban Heat Island Effect: The urban heat island effect occurs when the sun significantly heats urban surfaces (concrete, asphalt, etc...) to significantly higher temperatures than the surroundings air (can be upwards of 27-50oC). Comparatively shaded or more moist regions (such as rural areas with lots of vegetation) stay much closer to the surrounding air temperature. This heat imbalance between urban surfaces and surrounding air causes heat to transfer from those surfaces to the air, elevated the temperature above what it normally would be. This happens both at a surface and an atmospheric level. (United States Environmental Protection Agency, 2012)
Smart Growth: Smart Growth is an urban planning and transportation theory that became popular almost two decades ago. Though different organization's may differ slightly in their view of what smart growth means, it's general aims are to build compact accessible cities that avoid urban sprawl and mitigate auto-dependence. Some of the principles of this movement are as follows:
1). Incorporate mixed land uses into community designs
2). Build compact, accessible neighbourhoods close to jobs and amenities
3). Provide alternative modes of public transportation
4). Diversify housing to meet the needs of people from all socioeconomic classes
5). Maintain and protect natural open spaces
6). Build within existing communities instead of developing beyond community boundaries
7). Preserve agricultural land
8). Use new, sustainable technology in infrastructure and buildings
9). Develop community identity
10). Encourage active citizens to remain engaged in their communities
(Smart Growth BC, 2012)
Human Resource and Skills Development Canada. (2006). Retrieved July 15, 2012, from Indicators of Well-Being in Canada: Physical Activity: http://www4.hrsdc.gc.ca/.3ndic.1t.4r@-eng.jsp?iid=8
Active Living Research and the Public Health Institute. (2013). Where the Rubber Meets the Road: Promoting Active Transportation in Rural Areas.. Retrieved September 2013, from Active Living Research : http://activelivingresearch.org/where-rubber-meets-road-promoting-active-transportation-rural-areas
Canadian Medical Association. (2008). No Breathing Room: National Illness Cost of Air Pollution. Ottawa: CMA.
Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology. (2011). Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines. Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2009, May 31). Extreme Heat: A Prevention Guide to Promote Your Personal Health and Safety. Retrieved July 15, 2012, from CDC: http://www.bt.cdc.gov/disasters/extremeheat/heat_guide.asp
Centre for Chronic Disease Prevention and Control. . (2002). Diabetes in Canada, 2nd Edition. Ottawa: Health Canada.
Cervero, R. (1998). Land Use Mixing and Suburban Mobility. Transportation Quarterly, 42(3).
Cervero, R. (2002). Built Environments and Mode Choice: Toward a Normative Framework. Transportation Research Part D: Transport and Environment , 7(4), 265-284.
Creatore, M., Gozdyra, P., Booth, G., & Glazier, R. (2007). Chapter 1: Setting the Context. In M. Creatore, P. Gozdyra, G. Booth, R. Glazier, & M. Tynan, Neighbourhood Environments and Resources for Healthy Living - A Focus on Diabetes in Toronto: ICES Atlas. Toronto: Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences.
Cummins, S., & Macintyre, S. (2006). Food Environments and Obesity - Neighbourhood or Nation. International Journal of Epidemiology, 35(1), 100-104.
Cutts, B., Darby, K., Boone, C., & Brewis, A. (2009). City Structure, Obesity, and Environmental Justice: An Integrated Analysis of Physical and Social Barriers to Walkable Streets and Park Access. Social Science and Medicine, 69(9), 1314-1322.
Dennenberg, A. L., Howard, F., & J, J. R. (Eds.). (2011). Making Healthy Places Designing and Building for Health, Well-being and Sustainability . Washington: Island Press.
Department of Health and Human Resources. (2004, August 20). National Institute of Health. Retrieved July 30, 2012, from Obesity and the Built Environment: http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/rfa-files/rfa-es-04-003.html
Ewing, R., Schmid, T., Killingsworth, R., Zlot, A., & Raudenbush, S. (2003). Relationship Between Urban Sprawl and Physical Activity, Obesity, and Morbidity. The Science of Health Promotion, 18(1), 47-57.
Frank , L., Kavage S, & Devlin A. (2012). Health and the Built Environment: A Review. World Medical Association.
Frank, L. D. (2009, January). Final Report on Health Assessment Tool Development for Peel Region by Larry Frank. Retrieved July 15, 2012, from Peel Region: http://www.peelregion.ca/health/urban/pdf/Peel-Lit-Review-Final-11072008-submitted.pdf
Frank, L., Sallis, J., Conway, T., Chapman, J., Saelens, B., & Bachman, W. (2006). Many Pathways from Land Use to Health: Associations Between Neighborhood Walkability and Active Tranportation, Body Mass Index, and Air Quality. Journal of the American Planning Association, 72(1), 75-87.
Guh, D., Zhang, W., Bansback, N., Amarsi, Z., Birmingham, C., & Anis, A. (2009). The Incidence of Co-morbidities Related to Obesity and Overweight: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Public Health, 9(88), 1-20.
Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada. (2011). Position Statements: Community Design,Physical Activity, Heart Disease and Stroke. Retrieved June 2012, from Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada: http://www.heartandstroke.com/site/c.iklQLcMWJtE/b.3820627/
Jackson, R. J., & Kochtotzky, C. (n.d.). Creating a Healthy Enviroment: The Impact of the Built Environment on Public Health. Retrieved April 2012, from Sprawl Watch Clearinghouse Monograph Series: http://www.sprawlwatch.org/health.pdf
Larsen, K., & Gilliland, J. (2008). Mapping the Evolution of 'Food Deserts" in a Canadian City: Supermarket Accessibility in London, Ontario, 1961-2005. International Journal of Health Geographics, 7(16), 1-16.
Newman, P., & Kenworthy, J. (1989). Gasoline Consumption and Cities. Journal of the American Planning Association , 55(1), 24-37.
PHAC/CIHI. (2011). Obesity in Canada. Ottawa: Public Health Agency of Canada.
Public Health Agency of Canada. (2012, July 18). Obestiy in Canada: Snapshot. Retrieved July 29, 2012, from Public Health Agency of Canada: http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/publicat/2009/oc/index-eng.php
Shay, E., Spoon, S., & Khattak, A. (2003). Walkable Environments and Walking Activity. Carolina Transportation Program, Department of City and Regional Planning. North Carolina: Carolina Transportation Program.
Smart Growth BC. (2012). 10 Smart Growth Principles. Retrieved 30 July, 2012, from Smart Growth BC: http://www.smartgrowth.bc.ca/Default.aspx?tabid=133
SmartRisk. (2009). The Economic Burden of Injury in Canada. Toronto: SmartRisk.
Stansfeld SA, M. M. (2003). Noise pollution: non-auditory effects on health. . British Medical Bulletin,, 68, 243-257.
Statistics Canada. (1996-97, May 29). National Population Health Survey, Cycle 2. Canada: The Daily.
Statistics Canada. (2006, June 28). Childhood Obesity: A Troubling Situation. Retrieved July 15, 2012, from StatsCan: http://www41.statcan.ca/2006/2966/ceb2966_004-eng.htm
Statistics Canada. (2008). Mortality, Summary List of Causes. Health Statistics Division . Ottawa: Statistics Canada.
Surface Transportation Policy Partnership. (2002). Mean Streets 2002. Washington, DC: STPP.
United States Department of Housing and Urban Development. (1999). The State of the cities 1999: Third Annual Report. Washington, DC: USHUD.
United States Environmental Protection Agency. (2012, July 13). Heat Island Effect. Retrieved July 29, 2012, from United States Environmental Protection Agency: http://www.epa.gov/hiri/
United States Environmental Protection Agency. (2012, June 21). Heat Island Effect: Basic Information. Retrieved July 15, 2012, from United States Environmental Protection Agency: http://www.epa.gov/hiri/resources/pdf/BasicsCompendium.pdf
Vogel, T., Brechat, P., Lepetre, P., Kaltenbach, G., Berthel, M., & Lonsdorfer, J. (2009). Health Benefits of Physical Activity in Older Patients: A Review. The International Journal of Clinical Practice, 63(2), 303-320.
Industrialization and manufacturing have had enormous positive benefits for humankind, but the consequences of hazardous by-products (chemical contamination) to human health and the environment are less well recognized. A major incident such as Bhopal is an unequivocal example of catastrophic poisoning caused by industry. However, more subtle human health impacts can result from low levels of exposure to chemical and industrial by-products from agriculture, consumer products, manufacturing, and even medical sources. Chemicals from industrial sources have been found in the soil, water, air, food and human tissue. Due to improving technology, even minuscule amounts of potentially noxious substances can be detected.
Some exposures warrant remedial action, but in others the health impact may be negligible: the toxin, dose, route and duration of exposure must be considered. Of course, there are potentially toxic substances that have been found to pose little or no harm to human health, but there are many more for which the health effects are unknown. A substantial knowledge gap exists in that the effects of many chemical agents have not been fully studied. As a result, rigorous surveillance and assessment to ensure potential health impacts are reduced or avoided is necessary. Chemicals like dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) can persist in the environment or in living beings long after the product was pulled from the market, making it essential that full and rigorous testing of new and existing chemicals is undertaken. Finally, research is needed to determine whether emerging issues, such as the presence of pharmaceuticals in drinking water, pose a legitimate threat to human health.
Chemicals, properly managed, can and will continue to provide enormous benefits to society, but caution is warranted because of the potential health consequences. Provided below is a discussion of certain classes of chemicals that need to be regulated, monitored and properly researched.
Agriculture represents the largest component of the global economy. Rising pressures to meet the needs of a growing population have resulted in the mechanization of farming, and the widespread use of fertilizers and pesticides.1 Fertilizer and pesticide run-off has been found in soil, water and the human food supply.2 Approximately 40 chemicals classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as known, probable, or possible human carcinogens, are EPA registered pesticides available on the open market.3 Long-term low dose pesticide exposure has been linked to various cancers, immune suppression, hormonal disruption, reproductive abnormalities, birth defects, and developmental and behavioural problems.4 Certain pesticides are also known to be persistent in the human body.5 While many individual pesticides can be safely used, there is a lack of research on the effect of certain pesticides when used in combination.
Modern technologies have led to advances with a positive impact on the quality of human life. While newer consumer products have benefits over earlier materials, their use is not without side effects. Both the chemicals used to make these products and those that form key components of the products themselves may be harmful. Bisphenol A (BPA) is an industrial chemical added to many hard plastic bottles and to metal based food and beverage cans since the 1960s.6 In August 2010, Statistics Canada reported that measurable levels of BPA were found in the urine of 91 per cent of Canadians aged six to 79.7 Concerns have been raised about effects on the brain, behaviour, and prostate gland from exposure to this chemical, particularly in fetuses, infants, and children.8 In 2008, Canada banned BPA in infant bottles.9 In October 2010, Canada went a step further by becoming the first jurisdiction in the world to declare BPA toxic.10
With the growing demand for consumer products, there has been a corresponding growth in manufacturing. Manufacturing is one of the biggest contributors to outdoor air pollution, and contributes to soil and water pollution.11 In 2004, US industry released 1.8 billion pounds of potentially toxic chemicals. Exposure to some of these chemicals has been linked to severe health effects, including cancer. 12 One of the released chemicals, dioxin, can be harmful at very low levels. Dioxins accumulate in fats and break down slowly. This leads to contamination of the food supply, and human exposure through the consumption of meat, dairy, fish and shellfish.13 Even in the far north, animals have been found to contain dioxins.14 The EPA estimates that the cancer risk from dioxins already present in the general public is 1-per-1,000.15 In most cases the emissions pose minimal risk to human health. However, chemicals, and chemical combinations which remain unstudied should be properly assessed.16
Advancements in medical science and the use of pharmaceuticals, diagnostic equipment and other medical treatments have prolonged life expectancy. However, these interventions can also contribute to environmental contamination. In 2008, the Associated Press reported pharmaceuticals in the water of 24 major metropolitan areas in the United States, serving 41 million people.17 There is a concern that these pharmaceuticals could negatively impact male fertility, lead to birth defects, cause breast and testicular cancer in humans, and lead to antibiotic resistance.18 For many pharmaceuticals found in water sources, no concerted environmental impact surveys have been carried out.19
Mercury is used in fever thermometers, sphygmomanometers, gastrointestinal tubes, and oesophageal dilators20. Reports indicate that medical waste incinerators are among the largest sources of anthropogenic mercury emissions in both the United States and Canada.21 Medical waste, while not the principle source of mercury poisoning, contributes to the mercury levels present in the environment. In fetuses, infants and children, low-dose exposure to mercury can cause severe and lifelong behavioural and cognitive problems.22 At higher exposure levels, mercury may adversely affect the kidneys, the immune, neurological, respiratory, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, and haematological systems of adults.23 It has also been linked to cancer.24
These examples highlight the major categories of human exposure to chemicals. As the review suggests, some of these chemicals have been linked to harmful human health impacts. What is important to keep in mind, however, is that the harm is conditional on the level and lengths of exposure. For most people, these chemicals pose no harm because the exposure is so low. In some cases, such as BPA, it has been determined that the potential harm is not worth the risk: the Canadian government has decided to declare BPA toxic and regulate it accordingly. In other cases, such as pharmaceuticals, the evidence simply warrants further study and surveillance. Given the potential harm to human health, surveillance and research are vitally important in all categories. The more information that is available to policy makers and health care professionals, the better the chance of limiting human health impacts.
What has been done?
Concerns regarding chemical contamination and human health have led to numerous interventions from the international community. These include the International Programme on Chemical Safety (1980), the Inter-Organization Programme for the Sound Management of Chemicals (1995), the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling (2002), and the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management, which was adopted by governments and stakeholders at the first International Conference on Chemicals held in Dubai in 2006. 25
Various conventions have also been passed, including the Stockholm Convention (2004) on persistent organic pollutants such as DDT, and the Rotterdam Convention (2004) which applies to pesticides and industrial chemicals.26 There is some concern about the continued effectiveness of the Rotterdam convention. In 2006, the Canadian government was instrumental in preventing the listing of asbestos as a toxic chemical. Given the persuasive evidence of the harm caused by asbestos, this action undermines the legitimacy of voluntary international conventions.27
In addition to being a signatory to all international agreements listed above, the Canadian government has programs for chemical management domestically. The main tool is the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA) 1999. Jointly administered by Environment Canada and Health Canada, it is intended to prevent pollution and address the potentially dangerous chemical substances to which Canadians are exposed.28 The plan calls for increased surveillance of certain chemicals to monitor exposure and health effects, and will increase focus on the management of the health and environmental risks of pharmaceuticals, personal care products, and chemical contamination in food.29
There were 23,000 chemical substances on the Domestic Substances List (DSL) in Canada in 1999. To date, only about 1,000 of these chemicals have been fully assessed. Of the remaining 22,000, 85% have been categorized as not requiring any additional action.30The most recent Canadian Chemicals Management Plan states that full assessments will be done on 550 substances identified as potentially harmful. Even with these additional assessments, more than 3,000 chemicals will not have been assessed.
Canadian Medical Association
In 2009, the Canadian Medical Association and the Canadian Nurses Association released a joint position statement on environmentally responsible activity for the health-care sector. Recommendations included the proper handling and disposal of toxic chemicals and the reduction of products using these substances. An adapted version of this position statement was then endorsed by a coalition of 12 national healthcare organizations and the David Suzuki Foundation.
In October 2010, the World Medical Association, of which CMA is a member, adopted a policy statement on environmental degradation and the management of chemicals. The statement calls for mercury-free health care, support for international efforts to restrict chemical pollution and to monitor harmful chemicals in humans and the environment, and mitigation of the health effects of toxic exposure to chemicals.
What needs to be done?
Research and Surveillance
Research on chemicals produced through man-made activities remains insufficient. While some of the more toxic chemicals have been reviewed and are now more closely regulated, thousands remain that have had neither health nor environmental assessments. The Domestic Substances List in Canada has 3,300 chemicals of concern that have not been assessed. There is limited research on the effect of these chemicals in combination or in different mediums. Finally, work must be done to ensure environmental and human surveillance of potential chemical exposure threats.
1. Urges the government to complete the health and environmental assessment of the chemicals on the Domestic Substances List.
2. Encourages research on the health impacts of chemical substances, as well as the combinations of these substances in different products (e.g. pesticides), and in different mediums (e.g. pharmaceuticals in drinking water). Long-term research programs are required to determine health impacts from prolonged low-dose exposures.
3. Encourages ongoing surveillance of chemicals in the environment.
4. Encourages ongoing research on the impact of regulations and monitoring of chemicals on human health and the environment.
Regulations have been developed both internationally and domestically to undertake chemical management. However, gaps remain, largely due to the voluntary nature of the frameworks. Canada can play a lead role by respecting its commitments, seeking continued adherence to these agreements and providing leadership in developing effective domestic programs and legislation.
5. Urges the government to continue to support international efforts to manage chemical pollution. In particular CMA urges the government to fully support the principles of the Rotterdam Convention and support the listing of Asbestos as an Annex III toxic chemical.
6. Supports government legislation and regulation which reduces dangerous chemical pollution, detects and monitors harmful chemicals in both humans and the environment, mitigates the health effects of toxic exposures, and requires an environmental and health impact assessment prior to the introduction of a new chemical. Regulatory frameworks should be favoured over voluntary frameworks in order to ensure a level playing field for all manufacturers and to secure rapid and equitable health protection for all Canadians. CMA encourages the government to advocate for similar legislation internationally.
Physicians can participate in the monitoring of patients for potential health effects from chemical exposure. Additionally, physicians can be leaders in encouraging greener health care practices. Finally, physicians can support national medical organizations in developing clinical tools to assess patient risk to chemical exposure.
7. Supports the phase out of mercury and other persistent, bio-accumulating and toxic chemicals in health care devices and products.
8. Supports the development of effective and safe systems to collect and dispose of pharmaceuticals that are not consumed.
9. Supports the development of clinical tools for physicians to help assess their patients' risk from chemical exposures.
Education and Professional Development
Physicians have a role to play in educating their patients, the public, and current and future colleagues about the potential human health consequences of chemical contamination. Medical education and continuing professional development in this area could have a significant impact on human health.
10. Should assist in building professional and public awareness of the impact of the environment and global chemical pollutants on personal health.
11. Supports the development of locally appropriate continuing medical education on the clinical signs, diagnosis and treatment of diseases that are introduced into communities as a result of chemical pollution.
12. Encourages physicians to inform patients about the importance of safe disposal of pharmaceuticals that are not consumed.
National and International initiatives have substantially reduced the incidence of harmful chemical contamination, but more work is needed. Evidence of health effects (or lack thereof) may be strong for certain chemicals, but for others it remains incomplete. Given the dangers of chemicals such as dioxin, which can cause severe effects with small doses, more comprehensive research is warranted. To ensure human health consequences are identified and risks are minimized, improved surveillance is essential.
Further policies and regulations are needed to ensure that chemicals utilized are as safe as possible. The Canadian BPA ban demonstrates the use of the precautionary principle in the presence of convincing if not complete evidence. While there are clear benefits associated with the use of chemicals, it is necessary to ensure that potential harmful effects are considered.'
Finally, public and health care provider information is sorely lacking. Physicians can play a role in correcting some of these deficiencies through their actions to support research and surveillance, advocacy, leadership, education, and professional development.
1 Ongley, Edwin D. (1996) Control of water pollution from agriculture- FAO irrigation and drainage paper 55.Chapter 1: Introduction to agricultural water pollution Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Available at: http://www.fao.org/docrep/w2598e/w2598e00.HTM
2 Peters, Ruud J.B. (2006) Man-Made Chemicals in Food Products. TNO Built Environment and Geosciences. Available at: http://assets.panda.org/downloads/tno_report.pdf
3 Reuben, Suzanne H. (2010) Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk: What We Can Do Now: 2008-2009 Annual Report. President's Cancer Panel. Available at: http://deainfo.nci.nih.gov/advisory/pcp/annualReports/pcp08-09rpt/PCP_Report_08-09_508.pdf
4 Reuben, Suzanne H. (2010) Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk...; Shah, Binod P. & Bhupendra Devkota (2009) "Obsolete Pesticides: Their Environmental and Human Health Hazards." The Journal of Agriculture and Environment. Vol:10 June 2009. Available at: http://www.nepjol.info/index.php/AEJ/article/view/2130/1961 ; Kjellstrom, Tord et.al. (2006) Chapter 43: Air and Water Pollution: Burden and Strategies for Control in Disease Control Priorities in Developing Countries. Disease Control Priorities Project. Available at: http://files.dcp2.org/pdf/DCP/DCP43.pdf
5 California Environmental Protection Agency (2002) Environmental Protection Indicators for California: Chapter 3: Environmental Exposure Impacts Upon Human Health. Available at: http://oehha.ca.gov/multimedia/epic/2002reptpdf/Chapter3-7of8-HumanHealth.pdf
6 United States Food and Drug Administration (2010) Update on Bisphenol A for Use in Food Contact Applications. Available at: http://www.fda.gov/newsevents/publichealthfocus/ucm064437.htm
7 CBC News (October 13, 2010) BPA declared toxic by Canada. Available at: http://www.cbc.ca/health/story/2010/10/13/bpa-toxic.html
8 States Food and Drug Administration (2010) Update on Bisphenol A...
9 Health Canada (2008) Government of Canada Protects Families with Bisphenol A Regulations Available at: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/ahc-asc/media/nr-cp/_2008/2008_167-eng.php
10 CBC News (October 13, 2010) BPA declared toxic by Canada...
11 Kjellstrom, Tord et.al. (2006) Chapter 43: Air and Water Pollution...
12 Cassady, Alison & Alex Fidis (2007) Toxic Pollution and Health: An Analysis of Toxic Chemicals Released in Communities across the United States. U.S. PIRG Education Fund. Available at: http://cdn.publicinterestnetwork.org/assets/KTfes5EXnCLOgG9eWTKU6g/ToxicPollutionandHealth2007.pdf
13 World Health Organization (2010) Dioxins and their effects on human health. Available at: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs225/en/index.html
14 Woolford, Julian & Noemi Cano Ed. (2006) Killing them softly...
15 Cassady, Alison & Alex Fidis (2007) Toxic Pollution and Health...
17 Natural Resources Defense Council (2010) Dosed Without Prescription: Preventing Pharmaceutical Contamination of Our Nation's Drinking Water. Available at: http://www.nrdc.org/health/files/dosed4pgr.pdf
18 Wright-Walters, Maxine & Conrad Volz (2009) Municipal Wastewater Concentrations of Pharmaceutical and Xeno-Estrogens: Wildlife and Human Health Implications. Available at: http://www.chec.pitt.edu/Exposure_concentration_of_Xenoestrogen_in_pharmaceutical_and_Municipal_Wastewater__Final8-28-07%5B1%5D.pdf; Daughton, Christian G. (N.D.) Pharmaceuticals and the Environment. Available at: www.epa.gov/osp/regions/emerpoll/daughton.ppt; Nikolaou, Anastasia; Meric, Sureyya & Despo Fatta (2007) "Occurrence patterns of pharmaceuticals in water and wastewater environments." Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry. 387: 1225-1234; Natural Resources Defense Council (2010) Dosed Without Prescription...
19 Daughton, Christian G. (N.D.) Pharmaceuticals and the Environment...
20 Environment Canada. (N.D.)Mercury and the Environment. Available at: http://www.ec.gc.ca/MERCURY/SM/EN/sm-mcp.cfm#MD
21 Health Care Without Harm (2007) The Global Movement for Mercury Free Health Care. Available at: http://www.noharm.org/lib/downloads/mercury/Global_Mvmt_Mercury-Free.pdf; World Health Organization (2005) Mercury in Health Care: Policy Paper. Available at: http://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/medicalwaste/mercurypolpaper.pdf
22 Environmental Working Group (N.D.) Chemical Pollution: The Toll on America's Health. Available at: http://www.ewg.org/files/EWG-kid-safe-toll-on-health.pdf
23 California Environmental Protection Agency (2002) Environmental Protection Indicators...
24 Reuben, Suzanne H. (2010) Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk...
25 World Health Organization (N.D.) International Programme on Chemical Safety: About us. Available at: http://www.who.int/ipcs/en/; World Health Organization (N.D.) Inter-Organization Programme for the Sound Management of Chemicals. Available at: http://www.who.int/iomc/brochure/brochure_english.pdf; United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (N.D.) Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS). Available at: http://www.unece.org/trans/danger/publi/ghs/ghs_welcome_e.html; Weinberg, Jack (2008) An NGO Guide to SAICM: The Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management. Available at: http://www.ipen.org/ipenweb/documents/book/saicm%20introduction%20english.pdf
26 Eskenazi, Brenda et.al. (2009) "The Pine River Statement: Human Health Consequences of DDT Use." Environmental Health Perspectives. 117:1359-1367 Available at: http://www.eoearth.org/article/Human_Health_Consequences_of_DDT_Use#gen4; World Health Organization (N.D.) Rotterdam Convention: Share Responsibility. Available at: http://www.pic.int/home.php?type=t&id=5&sid=16
27 Kazan-Allen, Laurie (2007) Rotterdam Treaty Killed by Chrysotile Asbestos! International Ban Asbestos Secretariat. Available at: http://www.ibasecretariat.org/lka_rott_meet_geneva_oct_06.php
28 Government of Canada (2007) The Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA 1999). Available at: http://www.chemicalsubstanceschimiques.gc.ca/about-apropos/cepa-lcpe-eng.php
29 Government of Canada (2010) Chemicals Management Plan. Available at: http://www.chemicalsubstanceschimiques.gc.ca/plan/index-eng.php
Ensuring equitable access to effective and appropriate health care services is one strategy which can help to mitigate health inequities resulting from differences in the social and economic conditions of Canadians.
Equitable access can be defined as the opportunity of patients to obtain appropriate health care services based on their perceived need for care. This necessitates consideration of not only availability of services but quality of care as well.1
There is far ranging evidence indicating that access to care is not equitable in Canada. Those with higher socio-economic status have increased access for almost every health service available, despite having a generally higher health status and therefore a decreased need for health care. This includes insured services (such as surgery), as well as un-insured services such as pharmaceuticals and long-term care.
Those from disadvantaged groups are less likely to receive appropriate health care even if access to the system is available. They are more likely to report trouble getting appointments, less testing and monitoring of chronic health conditions, and more hospitalizations for conditions that could be avoided with appropriate primary care.
There is a financial cost to this disparity in equitable care. Reducing the differences in avoidable hospitalizations alone could save the system millions of dollars.
Barriers to equitable access occur on both the patient and health care system or supply side. Common barriers include:
(see pdf for correct display of table)
Demand Side or Patient Barriers
Supply Side or System Barriers
Services not located in areas of need
Cultural beliefs and norms
Patients lack family physicians
Lack of management of chronic disease
Cost of transportation
Long waits for service
Time off work for appointments
Payment models which don't account for complexity of patients
Access to child care
Coordination between primary care and speciality care and between health care and community services
Payment for medications or other medical devices/treatments
Standardization of referral and access to specialists and social services
Immobility- due to physical disabilities, and/or mental health barriers
Lack of needs based planning to ensure that population has necessary services
Cognitive issues, ie. Dementia, that adversely affect ability to access and comply with care
Attitudes of health care workers
To tackle barriers on the patient side there is a need to reduce barriers such as transportation and the prohibitive cost of some medically necessary services. Further, there is a need to increase the health literacy of patients and their families/caregivers as well as providing support to health care providers to ensure that all patients are able to be active participants in the management of their care.
On the system side the strategies for action fall into four main categories: patient-centred primary care which focuses on chronic disease management; better care coordination and access to necessary medical services along the continuum of care; quality improvement initiatives which incorporate considerations of equity as part of their mandate; and health system planning and assessment which prioritizes equitable access to care.
Recommendations are provided for CMA and national level initiatives; health care planners; and physicians in practice.
Despite a commitment to equal access to health care for all Canadians there are differences in access and quality of care for many groups. By removing barriers on both the patient and system side it is hoped that greater access to appropriate care will follow.
In Canada as in many countries around the world there are major inequities in health status across the population. Those lower on the socio-economic scale face higher burdens of disease, greater disability and even shorter life expectancies.2 Many of these disparities are caused by differences in social and economic factors such as income and education known as the social determinants of health.3,1 While many of these factors are outside of the direct control of the health care system, ensuring equitable access to effective and appropriate health care services can help to mitigate some of these disparities. The alternative can also be true. In health systems where access to care and appropriateness are unequal and skewed in favour of those of higher socio-economic status, the health system itself can create further inequities and add greater burden to those already at an increased risk of poor health. Physicians as leaders in the health care system can play a role in ensuring equitable access to care for all Canadians.
Equitable Access to Health Care in Canada:
Equitable access can be defined as the opportunity for patients to obtain appropriate health care services based on their perceived need for care. This necessitates consideration of not only availability of services but quality of care as well.4
Due to burden of disease and therefore need, those with lower socio-economic status should be utilizing more services along the continuum.5 That, however, is not the case. Individuals living in lower income neighbourhoods, younger adults and men are less likely to have primary care physicians than their counterparts.6
Primary care physicians deliver the majority of mental illness treatment and they are the main source of referrals to psychiatrists or other specialists. However, much of the care for people with mental illnesses, especially on the lower socio-economic end of the scale, is delivered in emergency rooms, which is both costly and episodic. This is due not only to a lack of primary care access but to a lack of community mental health services.7
Those with higher socio-economic status are much more likely to have access to and utilize specialist services.8 Examples include greater likelihood of catheterization and shorter waits for angiography for patients with myocardial infarction9; and greater access to in-hospital physiotherapy, occupational therapy, and speech language therapy for those hospitalized with acute stroke10. Low income men and women with diabetes were just as likely to visit a specialist for treatment as high income individuals despite a significantly greater need for care.11
There is a correlation between higher income and access to day surgery.12 A Toronto study found that inpatient surgery patients were of much higher income than medical inpatients.13 Additionally, utilization of diagnostic imaging services is greater among those in higher socio-economic groups.14 Access to preventive and screening programs such as pap smears and mammography are lower among disadvantaged groups.15
Geography can cause barriers to access. In general rural Canadians have higher health care needs but less access to care.16 People in northern and rural communities typically have to travel great distances to obtain health services as many, especially specialist services, cannot be obtained in their home community.17 Those living in the most rural communities in Canada are the least likely to have a regular family doctor, or to have had a specialist physician visit.18 According to data from the Society of Rural Physicians of Canada, 21% of the Canadian population is rural while only 9.4% of family physicians and 3% of specialists are considered rural.19 This lack of access to specialists and other medically necessary services can lead to delays in treatment and harm to health including unnecessary pain and permanent disability.20 Further, travel for necessary treatment often comes with a significant financial cost.21
It is not just access to insured services that is a problem in Canada. Many Canadians do not have access to needed pharmaceuticals. Researchers have reported that those in the lowest income groups are three times less likely to fill prescriptions, and 60% less able to get needed tests because of cost.22 The use of appropriate diabetes preventative services, medication, and blood glucose testing, has been shown to be dependent on out of pocket expenditures.23
Rehabilitation services are difficult for some Canadians to access as well. Services such as physiotherapy and occupational therapy are often not covered unless they are provided in-hospital or to people on certain disability support programs. This leads to long wait times for services that are covered or no access at all.24 Adding to these inequities is the fact that different programs are covered in different provinces and territories.25
Access to mental health services is a major challenge for Canadians. According to data from Statistics Canada, more than half a million Canadians who had a perceived need for mental health care services, reported that their needs were unmet. Access to counselling services was the most frequent unmet need reported.26 A number of important mental health professionals - notably psychologists and counsellors - are not funded through provincial health budgets, or are funded only on a very limited basis. Access to psychologists is largely limited to people who can pay for them, through private insurance or out of their own pockets.27,2
Access to subsidized residential care, long-term care, home care and end-of-life care is problematic as well. Those with means can access high quality long-term care services within their community, while those with inadequate resources are placed in lower quality facilities sometimes hours away from family and friends.28 Even with expansions promised by governments, home care will not be able to meet the needs of underserved groups such as those living in rural and remote areas.29 Finally, only a fraction of patients have access to or receive palliative and end-of-life care. Those living in rural or remote areas or living with disabilities have severely limited access to formal palliative care.30
Difficulties in access are particularly acute for Canada's Aboriginal peoples. Many live in communities with limited access to health care services, sometimes having to travel hundreds of miles to access care.31 Additionally, there are jurisdictional challenges; many fall through the cracks between the provincial and federal health systems. While geography is a significant barrier for Aboriginal peoples, it is not the only one. Aboriginals living in Canada's urban centres also face difficulties. Poverty, social exclusion and discrimination can be barriers to needed health care. Of all federal spending on Aboriginal programs and services only 10% is allocated to urban Aboriginals. This means that Aboriginals living in urban areas are unable to access programs such as Aboriginal head start, or alcohol and drug services, which would be available if they were living on reserve.32 Further, even when care is available it may not be culturally appropriate. Finally, Canada's Aboriginal peoples tend to be over-represented in populations most at risk and with the greatest need for care, making the lack of access a much greater issue for their health status.33
However, these examples are only part of the story as accessing care which is inappropriate cannot be considered equitable access.34 Those of lower socio-economic status are more likely to use inpatient services; show an increased use of family physician services once initial contact is made;35 and have consistently higher hospitalization rates; 36 This could be due to the higher burden of need or could demonstrate that the services that are received are not addressing the health care needs of those lower on the socio-economic scale.37
Women and men from low-income neighbourhoods are more likely to report difficulties making appointments with their family doctors for urgent non-emergent health problems. They were also more likely to report unmet health care needs.38 In terms of hospitalizations, people with lower socio-economic status were much more likely to be hospitalized for ambulatory care sensitive conditions (ACSC) and mental health39; admissions which could potentially be avoided with appropriate primary care.40 They were also found to have on average longer lengths of stay.41 According to a study of hospitals in the Toronto Central Local Health Integration Network, patients considered to be Alternate Level of Care were more likely to have a low-income profile.42
Further, people with ACSC in low-income groups, those living in rural areas, or those with multiple chronic conditions were twice as likely to report the use of emergency department services for care that could have been provided by a primary care provider.43
There is a financial cost to this disparity. According to a 2011 report, low-income residents in Saskatoon alone consume an additional $179 million in health care costs than middle income earners.44 A 2010 study by CIHI found increased costs for avoidable hospitalizations for ambulatory care sensitive conditions were $89 million for males and $71 million for females with an additional $248 million in extra costs related to excess hospitalizations for mental health reasons.45
Areas for Action:
As the background suggests, equitable access is about more than just utilization of services. There are patient characteristics as well as complex factors within the health system which determine whether equitable access is achieved. Recent work has categorized access as having considerations on the supply of services and demand of patients for care. On the demand or patient side we must consider: ability to perceive; ability to seek, ability to reach, ability to pay, and ability to engage. On the supply side or health system considerations include: approachability; acceptability, availability and accommodation, affordability, and appropriateness. 46 The following table highlights some of the current barriers to equitable access.
(See PDF for correct display of table)
Demand Side or Patient Barriers
Supply Side or System Barriers
Services not located in areas of need
Cultural beliefs and norms
Patients lack family physicians
Lack of management of chronic disease
Cost of transportation
Long waits for service
Time off work for appointments
Payment models which don't account for complexity of patients
Access to child care
Coordination between primary care and speciality care and between health care and community services
Payment for medications or other medical devices/treatments
Standardization of referral and access to specialists and social services
Immobility- due to physical disabilities, and/or mental health barriers
Lack of needs based planning to ensure that population has necessary services
Cognitive issues, ie. Dementia, that adversely affect ability to access and comply with care
Attitudes of health care workers
Patient based actions for improving equitable access:
Low health literacy can lead to difficulties for some Canadians in perceiving a need for care.47 Evidence suggests that more than half of Canadian adults (60%), lack the capacity to obtain, understand and act upon health information and services in order to make health decisions on their own.48 Many physicians are undertaking strategies to minimize this lack of health literacy among their patients. Examples include plain language resources as well as teach-back exercises which allow physicians to determine whether patients have fully understood the information provided.49 These efforts should continue to be supported.
Understanding how the health system works and where to access services can be a problem for some individuals.50 Beliefs about the need and value for certain services can also undermine the ability of patients in seeking care.51 Work needs to be done to ensure that disadvantaged groups are aware of the services that are available to them and the benefits of taking preventative steps in their health.
Low-income Canadians are ten times more likely to report unmet needs of health care due to the cost of transportation.52 Other barriers include a lack of child care, and ability to get time off work to attend necessary health appointments.53 Strategies that provide patients with transportation to appointments or subsidies for such travel have seen some success. Extended office hours and evening appointments can increase access for those unable to take time off work. Additionally, programs that provide patients with home visits from health care providers can help to eliminate this barrier. Further support and expansion of these programs should be explored.
There is also the inability to pay for services not covered by provincial plans such as pharmaceuticals, physiotherapy and other rehabilitation services.54 According to a 2005 report on diabetes in Canada, affordability and access to medical supplies was the biggest challenge for those Canadians living with diabetes.55 Access to services such as mental health counselling, subsidized residential care, and long-term care are also hindered by the inability to pay.
Even if patients are able to obtain care they may not be able to fully engage. Language difficulties, low health literacy, cognitive challenges (ie. Dementia), cultural mores and norms, and discrimination or insensitivity of health care workers, may all act as barriers to full participation in care.56 Efforts should be made to develop teaching methods to improve engagement of patients and their families/caregivers from disadvantaged groups.57 Strategies to remove or minimize the barriers created by a lack of health literacy should be developed and shared with physicians and other health care providers. Further, programs which facilitate access to services including interpretation and translation of key health information should be supported.58
Finally, an understanding of a patient's cultural and social context is important. The Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada and the Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada have developed training modules for physicians who will be working with Canada's Aboriginal peoples.59 Similar programs have been developed by the Canadian Paediatric Society, and the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada. More of this training is needed and should focus on groups who are likely to experience disadvantage in health care access and appropriateness.
Recommendations for action:
CMA and National Level Initiatives
The CMA recommends that:
1. Governments develop a national strategy for improving the health literacy of Canadians which takes into account the special needs of different cultures.
2. Governments provide accessible and affordable transportation options for patients requiring medical services when such services are unavailable locally.
3. Governments, in consultation with the life and health insurance industry and the public, establish a program of comprehensive prescription drug coverage to be administered through reimbursement of provincial/territorial and private prescription drug plans to ensure that all Canadians have access to medically necessary drug therapies.
4. Governments examine methods to ensure that low-income and other disadvantaged Canadians have greater access to needed medical interventions such as rehabilitation services, mental health, home care, and end-of-life care.
5. Governments explore options to provide funding for long-term care services for all Canadians.
6. Governments ensure that necessary interpretation and translation services are provided at all points of care.
Physicians in Practice
The CMA recommends that
7. Physicians be supported in addressing the health literacy of their patients and their families/caregivers.
8. Physician education programs continue to emphasize the important cultural and social contexts in which their patients live.
System based actions for improving equitable access:
On the system side there are two main areas that need to be addressed: making sure that people can access the services that they need (approachability, availability and accommodation, and affordability); and ensuring that once they have accessed the system that services are appropriate for their health needs (acceptability and appropriateness). Strategies for action include: patient-centred primary care which focuses on chronic disease management; better care coordination and greater access to necessary medical services along the continuum; quality improvement initiatives which incorporate equity as part of their mandate; and health system planning and assessment which prioritizes equitable access to care.
1. Patient-centred primary care which focuses on chronic disease management and which includes programs to increase access to those most at need.
Comprehensive primary care offers the biggest possibility for increasing equitable access and reducing health disparities. Data from a large population study in Ontario indicates that inequities in access to primary care and appropriate chronic disease management are much larger than inequities in the treatment of acute conditions.60
Currently many primary care services are located outside of the neighbourhoods with the greatest need for care. While some are accessible through public transportation, there is still a need for more convenient access for these communities. Community health centres (CHC) offer a good model for addressing this challenge through location in disadvantaged neighbourhoods and the provision of culturally appropriate care.61 Additionally, CHCs offer a number of different health, and sometimes social services, under one roof making access to many different types of care more convenient for patients.
More work needs to be done to to reduce barriers in access to Canadians living in rural and remote communities. Telemedicine is one strategy that has increased access for rural Canadians. The Ontario Telemedicine Network is one example of this innovative approach. Patients in rural communities can have access to specialists in urban centres through their local health providers. Examples include cardiac rehab follow-up, tele-homecare to support lifestyle changes, and psychiatric or mental health consultations.62
Programs which encourage recruitment and training of health professionals from rural and disadvantaged populations have been found to increase access as these individuals are more likely to return to their home communities to practice.63
Medical schools have been attempting to increase the diversity in their schools for a number of years. However, work still needs to be done. Data from the 2012 student component of the National Physician Survey shows that 278 of the 2000 students who responded to the survey (13.9%) come from families considered to be in the top 1% of earners in Canada. This is compared to only 46 (2.3%) of students whose family incomes place them in the bottom quintile of earners. 64
One of the suggested strategies for increasing diversity in medical schools is increasing the knowledge about the medical profession among rural and disadvantaged young people. An innovative program in Alberta called Mini Docs allows children between the ages of six and 12 to learn about being a doctor and how to stay healthy. The children get to wear medical scrubs for the day and use harmless medical tools such as stethoscopes and bandages. The day long program is run by medical students.65
Strategies to remove financial barriers to access, such as scholarships, should be expanded. Further, there is a need to modify the admissions process to recognize the differences in access to programs such as MCAT preps and overseas volunteer experiences based on the availability of financial resources as well as the necessity of employment for some students while in medical school. This necessary employment may limit the time available for volunteer and community service.66
Another strategy that can be effective in increasing access is programs that seek to link primary care providers with unattached and underserved patients. Programs such as Health Care Connect in Ontario and the GP and Me program in British Columbia actively seek to link sometimes hard to serve patients to appropriate primary care.
The College of Family Physicians of Canada has developed a blueprint for comprehensive primary care for Canadians. The concept, a 'patient's medical home' seeks to link Canadians with a comprehensive health care team led by a family physician. These medical homes will take many forms but will be designed to increase both access and the patient-centredness of care.67
Another barrier to access is timeliness of service. Many patients are forced to use walk in clinics or emergency departments as they cannot receive the required care from their primary care providers. Use of walk-in clinics or emergency departments for primary care may lead to lost opportunities for prevention and health promotion.68 Advanced access programs can help to improve equitable access to care by facilitating timely appointments for all patients.69 The AIM (Access improvement measures) program in Alberta uses a system designed by the Institute for Healthcare Improvement to redesign practice to focus on same day appointments and elimination of unnecessary delays.70
Primary care which prioritizes chronic disease management offers the greatest potential for increasing appropriateness of care and reducing system costs. Those most likely to have chronic diseases are also those who face the biggest barriers to equitable access.71 Currently many people with ACSC do not receive the appropriate tests to monitor their conditions, management of their medications, or supports to self-manage their disease.72 Some programs do exist to encourage more effective management of chronic disease. The Champlain Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) in Ontario has developed a cardiovascular disease prevention network to improve care through the use of evidence based practices and better integration between all areas of the health care continuum.73 Primary Care networks in Alberta have similar goals designed to connect multiple physicians, clinics and regions together to support the health needs of the population.74
Further work is necessary to expand these types of programs and to provide appropriate compensation models for complex patients. Payment models in some jurisdictions undermine access by failing to take morbidity and co-morbidity into consideration in designing rates such as equal capitation.75
Finally, there is a need to encourage greater self-management of disease. Practice support programs in British Columbia are providing training to support physicians in increasing patient self-management and health literacy.76 Additional programs of this nature are necessary in all jurisdictions.
2. Better care coordination and greater access to necessary medical services along the continuum of care.
Patient-centred care which integrates care across the continuum and which includes community services will be necessary to ensure not only greater access but greater acceptability of care.77 Innovative programs focused on increasing the coordination in terms of transition from hospital to home have shown some success in preventing readmissions particularly when vulnerable populations are targeted.78 Health Links in Ontario aims to reduce costs, based on the assumption that much of the utilization of high cost services, such as emergency department visits, could be prevented with better coordinated care. One of the pilot sites in Guelph aims to assign one person in primary care, likely a doctor or a nurse, to be the primary contact for patients deemed high need and to intervene on behalf of these patients to ensure better care coordination.79
Further work is needed to ensure greater coordination in speciality care. As the evidence demonstrates, access to specialist services are skewed in favour of high-income patients. To reduce this inequity it may be necessary to standardize the referral process and facilitate the coordination of care from the primary care providers' perspective.80 A new program in British Columbia is designed to reduce some of these barriers by providing funding and support to rapid access programs which allow family physicians to access specialist care through a designated hotline. If no specialist is available immediately there is a commitment that the call will be returned within two hours. Specialists available through this program include cardiology, endocrinology, nephrology, psychiatry, and internal medicine among others.81 Similar programs in other jurisdictions could help to increase coordination between primary and speciality care.
Care coordination is only part of the problem, however. There is also a need to increase the access to services that are medically necessary across the care continuum. These include a lifetime prevention schedule82, diagnostic testing, specialty services, and access to appropriate rehabilitation services, mental health, long-term care and end of life care.
3. Quality improvement initiatives which incorporate considerations of equity as part of their mandate.
Equity has become a key component of many quality improvement initiatives around the world. The Health Quality Council Ontario identified nine attributes of a high-performing health system: safe, effective, patient-centred, accessible, efficient, equitable, integrated, appropriately resourced, and focused on population health.83
The POWER study, a large study of Ontario residents found that where there were targeted programs for quality improvement fewer inequities were observed. In particular they referred to the actions of Cancer Care Ontario and the Ontario Stroke Network. Both of these groups had undergone large quality improvement initiatives to standardize care and increase coordination of services through evidence-based guidelines and ongoing performance measurement. Considerations of accessibility and equity were specifically included. As a result of these efforts, the POWER study found that acute cancer and stroke care in Ontario were quite equitable.84
Similar efforts are underway in other jurisdictions. The Towards Optimized Practice initiative in Alberta supports efforts in medical offices to increase the use of clinical practice guidelines for care as well as quality improvement initiatives.85 Encouraging more health services and programs to undertake such quality improvement initiatives could help to reduce the inequities in access for all Canadians.
4. Health system planning and assessment which prioritizes equitable access to care
Considerations of equity must be built specifically into all planning considerations. Too often services are designed without adequate consideration of the specific needs of disadvantaged groups. Planners need to do a better job of understanding their practice populations and tailoring programs to those most in need of care.86 This planning should be done in consultation with other sectors that play a role in influencing the health of their practice populations.
Further, assessments of the equity and use of services is also needed. Some services may be designed in a way that is more appropriate for some than others, resulting in higher utilization among some groups and a lack of access for others.87 Innovative work is taking place in the Saskatoon Health Region to try and understand these barriers. Health care services are undergoing specific health equity assessments to ensure that all services meet the needs of diverse populations. This includes looking at the full spectrum of services from preventative care and education programs to tertiary level care such as dialysis. In Ontario, the local health integration networks (LHIN) have now been tasked with developing equity plans for their services. Clear goals and performance measurements are part of this work.88
One of the tools available to support this work is a health equity impact assessment tool developed by the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. This tool is intended for use by organizations within the health system as well as those outside the system who will impact on the health of Ontarians. The main focus of the tool is to reduce inequities that result from barriers in access to quality health services. Additionally, it is designed to identify unintended health impacts, both positive and negative, before a program or policy is implemented.89 Further work is needed to ensure that equity is included in the deliverables and performance management of health care organizations and provider groups across the country.90
To support these planning programs appropriate data will need to be collected. This data needs to be comprehensive for all services and needs to include specific data points which will allow planners as well as providers to understand the composition of their populations as well as measure and report on considerations of equity.91
Recommendations for action:
CMA and National Level Initiatives
The CMA recommends that:
9. Governments continue efforts to ensure that all Canadians have access to a family physician.
10. Appropriate compensation and incentive programs be established in all jurisdictions to support better management of chronic disease for all Canadians.
11. Governments provide funding and support to programs which facilitate greater integration between primary and speciality care.
12. With support from government, national medical organizations develop programs to increase standardization of care and the use of appropriate clinical practice guidelines.
13. Appropriate data collection and performance measurement systems be put in place to monitor equitable distribution of health services and greater appropriateness of care.
Health System Planners
The CMA recommends that:
14. Needs based planning be mandated for all health regions and health system planning. Equity impact assessment should be part of this planning to ensure that services meet the needs of all Canadians.
15. Chronic disease management and other supportive strategies for vulnerable patients at risk of frequent readmission to the acute care system be prioritized in all health systems.
16. Quality improvement initiatives be mandated in all care programs. These programs should include a specific focus on standardization of care and continuous quality improvement and should include equity of access as part of their mandate.
Physicians in Practice
The CMA recommends that:
17. Physicians be supported in efforts to offer timely access in primary care settings.
18. Physicians be supported in continued efforts to include all patients in decisions about their care and management of their illnesses.
19. Physicians be supported in continued efforts to standardize care and utilize evidence based clinical practice guidelines with a particular emphasis on the management of chronic disease.
20. Physicians be encouraged and adequately supported to participate in community-based interventions that target the social determinants of health.
Despite a commitment to equal access to health care for all Canadians there are differences in access and quality of care for many groups. For those that are most vulnerable, this lack of access can serve to further exacerbate their already increased burden of illness and disease. The strategies discussed above offer some opportunities for the health sector and the medical profession to intervene and mitigate this inequity. By removing barriers on both the patient and system side it is hoped that greater access to appropriate care will follow. While these strategies offer some hope, these actions alone will not be sufficient to increase the overall health of the Canadian population. Action is still required to tackle the underlying social and economic factors which lead to the disparities in the health of Canadians.
1 This paper represents a focus on equitable access to care. For a more general policy statement on the role of physicians in addressing the social determinants of health please see: Canadian Medical Association. Health Equity and the Social Determinants of Health: A Role for the Medical Profession. Ottawa, ON; 2012. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Policypdf/PD13-03.pdf
2 The Canadian Medical Association is currently developing a policy paper on access to mental health services in Canada. It is anticipated that this policy statement will be completed in 2014.
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health systems and populations. Int J Equity Health 2013. Available: http://www.equityhealthj.com/content/12/1/18 (accessed 2013Mar 12)
2 Mikkonen J, Raphael D. Social Determinants of Health: The Canadian Facts. Toronto (ON); 2010. Available: http://www.thecanadianfacts.org/The_Canadian_Facts.pdf (accessed 2011 Jan 14).
3 Commission on the Social Determinants of Health. Closing the gap in a generation: Health equity through action on the social determinants of health: Executive Summary. Geneva (CH) World Health Organization; 2008. Available: http://whqlibdoc.who.int/hq/2008/WHO_IER_CSDH_08.1_eng.pdf (accessed 2011 Jan 7).
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health systems and populations. Int J Equity Health 2013. Available: http://www.equityhealthj.com/content/12/1/18 (accessed 2013Mar 12)
5 Oliver A, Mossialos E. Equity of access to health care: outlining the foundations for action. J Epidemiol Community Health 2004; 58: 655-658.
6 Bierman AS, Angus J, Ahmad F, et al. Ontario Women's Health Equity Report : Access to Health Care Services : Chapter 7. Toronto (ON) Project for and Ontario Women's Health Evidence-Based Report; 2010. Available: http://powerstudy.ca/wp-content/uploads/downloads/2012/10/Chapter7-AccesstoHealthCareServices.pdf (accessed 2012 Dec 10).
7 Kirby M, Goldbloom D, Bradley L. Changing Directions, Changing Lives: The Mental Health Strategy for Canada.Ottawa (ON): Mental Health Commission of Canada; 2012. Available: http://strategy.mentalhealthcommission.ca/pdf/strategy-text-en.pdf (accessed 2013 Mar 12).
8 Allin S. Does Equity in Healthcare Use Vary...; Frolich N, Fransoo R, Roos N. Health Service Use in the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority: Variations Across Areas in Relation to Health and Socioeconomic status. Winnipeg (MB) Manitoba Centre for Health Policy. Available: http://mchp-appserv.cpe.umanitoba.ca/teaching/pdfs/hcm_forum_nf.pdf (accessed 2013 Feb 6); McGrail K. Income-related inequities: Cross-sectional analyses of the use of medicare services in British Columbia in 1992 and 2002. Open Medicine 2008; 2(4): E3-10; Van Doorslaer E, Masseria C. Income-Related Inequality in the Use... Veugelers PJ, Yip AM. Socioeconomic disparities in health care use: Does universal coverage reduce inequalities in health? J Epidemiol Community Health 2003; 57:424-428.
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16 The Ontario Rural Council. TORC 2009 Rural Health Forum: Rethinking Rural Health Care: Innovations Making a Difference. Guelph, ON; 2009. Available: http://ruralontarioinstitute.ca/file.aspx?id=1fb3035d-7c0e-4bfa-a8d7-783891f5c5dc (accessed 2013 Sep 18).
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30 Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association. Fact Sheet: Hospice Palliative Care in Canada. Ottawa(ON); 2012. Available: http://www.chpca.net/media/7622/fact_sheet_hpc_in_canada_may_2012_final.pdf (accessed 2013 Mar 25).
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33 National Collaborating Centre for Aboriginal Health. Access to Health Services As A Social Determinant of First Nations, Inuit And Metis Health. Prince George (BC) National Collaborating Centre for Aboriginal Health; 2011. Available: http://www.nccah-ccnsa.ca/docs/fact%20sheets/social%20determinates/Access%20to%20Health%20Services_Eng%202010.pdf (accessed 2013 Feb 6).
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39 Canadian Institute for Health Information. Hospitalization Disparities by Socio-Economic Status...
40 Canadian Institute for Health Information. Hospitalization Disparities by Socio-Economic Status... ;Roos LL, Walld R, Uhanova J, et al. Physician Visits, Hospitalizations, and Socioeconomic Status: Ambulatory Care Sensitive Conditions in a Canadian Setting. HSR 2005; 40(4): 1167-1185.
41 Curtis LJ, MacMinn WJ. Health-Care Utilization in Canada: 25 Years of Evidence: SEDAP Research Paper No. 190. Hamilton (ON) Social and Economic Dimensions of an Aging Population Research Program; 2007. Available: http://catalogue.iugm.qc.ca/GEIDEFile/23002.PDF?Archive=102297992047&File=23002_PDF (accessed 2013 Feb 14).
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44 Saskatoon Poverty Reduction Partnership. From poverty to possibility...and prosperity: A Preview to the Saskatoon Community Action Plan to Reduce Poverty. Saskatoon (SK): Saskatoon Poverty Reduction Partnership; 2011.Available: http://www.saskatoonpoverty2possibility.ca/pdf/SPRP%20Possibilities%20Doc_Nov%202011.pdf (accessed 2012 Mar 13)
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49 Parnell TA, Turner J. IHI 14th Annual International Summit. Health Literacy: Partnering for Patient-Centred Care. April 9, 2013.
50 Bowen, S. Access to Health Services for Underserved Populations...
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54 Williamson DL, Stewart MJ, Hayward K. Low-income Canadians' experiences...
55 Chiu S, Hwang SW. Barriers to healthcare among homeless people with diabetes. Diabetes Voice 2006; 51(4): 9-12. Available: http://www.idf.org/sites/default/files/attachments/article_473_en.pdf (2011 Feb 20),
56 Bierman A, Angus J, Ahmad F, et al. Ontario Women's Health Equity Report : Access to Health Care Services : Chapter 7.... Willems S, De Maesschalck S, Deveugele M, et al. Socio-economic status of the patient and doctor-patient communication: does it make a difference? Patient Educ Couns 2004; 56: 139-146; Williamson DL, Stewart MJ, Hayward K. Low-income Canadians' experiences...
57 Willems S, De Maesschalck S, Deveugele M, et al. Socio-economic status of the patient...
58 Bierman A, Angus J, Ahmad F, et al. Ontario Women's Health Equity Report : Access to Health Care Services : Chapter 7...
59 Indigenous Physicians of Canada and the Association of Faculties of Medicine Canada, "First Nations, Inuit, Métis Health, Core Competencies: A Curriculum Framework for Undergraduate Medical Education"
Updated April 2009, online: http://www.afmc.ca/pdf/CoreCompetenciesEng.pdf (accessed October 20, 2010).
60 Bierman AS, Shack AR, Johns A. Ontario Women's Health Equity Report : Achieving Health Equity in Ontario: Opportunities for Intervention and Improvement: Chapter 13. Toronto (ON) Project for and Ontario Women's Health Evidence-Based Report; 2012.Available: http://powerstudy.ca/wp-content/uploads/downloads/2012/10/Chapter13-AchievingHealthEquityinOntario.pdf (accessed 2013 Feb 6).
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62 Williams, R. Telemedicine in Ontario: Fact not Fiction: How to enhance your practice and enrich the patient experience. Ontario Telemedicine Network: Toronto, ON; 2013. Available: http://otn.ca/sites/default/files/telemedicine_in_ontario-_fact_not_fiction_02-26.pdf (accessed 2013 Sep 19).
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66 Dhalla IA, Kwong JC, Streiner DL et al. Characteristics of first-year students in Canadian...
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Health equity is created when individuals have the opportunity to achieve their full health potential; equity is undermined when preventable and avoidable systematic conditions constrain life choices.1 These conditions are known as the social determinants of health. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines the social determinants of health as the circumstances in which people are born, develop, live and age.2 In 2002, researchers and policy experts at a York University conference identified the following list: income and income distribution; early life; education; housing; food security; employment and working conditions; unemployment and job security; social safety net; social inclusion/exclusion; and health services. 3
Research suggests that 15% of population health is determined by biology and genetics, 10% by physical environments, 25% by the actions of the health care system, with 50% being determined by our social and economic environment.4 Any actions to improve health and tackle health inequity must address the social determinants and their impact on daily life.5
THE SOCIAL DETERMINANTS OF HEALTH AND HEALTH STATUS
Social status is one of the strongest predictors of health at the population level. There is a social gradient of health such that those with higher social status experience greater health than those with lower social status. The social gradient is evident not only when comparing the most disadvantaged to the most advantaged; within each strata, even among those holding stable middle-class jobs, those at the lowest end fare less well than those at the higher end. The Whitehall study of civil servants in the United Kingdom found that lower ranking staff have a greater disease burden and shorter life expectancy than higher-ranking staff.6 Differences in medical care did not account for the differences in mortality.7 This gradient has been demonstrated for just about any health condition.8
Hundreds of research papers have confirmed that people in the lowest socio-economic groups carry the greatest burden of illness.9 In 2001, people in the neighbourhoods with the highest 20% income lived about three years longer than those in the poorest 20% neighbourhoods (four years for men; two years for women).10 Dietary deficiencies, common in food insecure households, can lead to an increased chance of chronic disease and greater difficulty in disease management. It is estimated that about 1.1 million households in Canada experience food insecurity, with the risk increasing in single-parent households and in families on social assistance.11
Studies suggest that adverse socio-economic conditions in childhood can be a greater predictor of cardiovascular disease and diabetes in adults than later life circumstances and behavioural choices.12 Effective early childhood development offers the best opportunity to reduce the social gradient and improve the social determinants of health,13 and offers the greatest return on investment.14
Low income contributes not only to material deprivation but social isolation as well. Without financial resources, it is more difficult for individuals to participate in cultural, educational and recreational activities or to benefit from tax incentives. Suicide rates in the lowest income neighbourhoods are almost twice as high as in the wealthiest neighbourhoods.15 This social isolation and its effects are most striking in Canada's homeless population. Being homeless is correlated with higher rates of physical and mental illness. In Canada, premature death is eight to 10 times higher among the homeless.16
The gradient in other social determinants can have an adverse impact as well. A study conducted in the Netherlands estimated that average morbidity and mortality in the overall population could be reduced 25-50% if men with lower levels of education had the same mortality and morbidity levels as those men with a university education.17 Employment status also follows this gradient, such that having a job is better than being unemployed. 18 Unemployment is correlated with increased blood pressure, self-reported ill health, drug abuse, and reductions in normal activity due to illness or injury.19 Unemployment is associated with increases in domestic violence, family breakups and crime. Finally, job security is relevant.20 Mortality rates are higher among temporary rather than permanent workers.21
Canada's Aboriginal people face the greatest health consequences as a result of the social determinants of health. Poverty, inadequate or substandard housing, unemployment, lack of access to health services, and low levels of education characterize a disproportionately large number of Aboriginal peoples.22 The crude mortality rate for First Nations is higher and life expectancy lower than the Canadian average.23 Aboriginal peoples experience higher rates of chronic disease, addictions, mental illness and childhood abuse.24 Aboriginal peoples have higher rates of suicide, with suicide being the leading cause of potential years of life lost in both the First Nations and Inuit populations.25
THE SOCIAL DETERMINANTS OF HEALTH AND CANADA'S HEALTH SYSTEM
These differences in health outcomes have an impact on the health care system. Most major diseases including heart disease and mental illness follow a social gradient with those in lowest socio-economic groups having the greatest burden of illness.26 Those within the lowest socio-economic status are 1.4 times more likely to have a chronic disease, and 1.9 times more likely to be hospitalized for care of that disease.27 Chronic diseases such as diabetes account for 67% of direct health care costs and 60% indirect costs.28
Research has shown that Canadians with low incomes are higher users of general practitioner, mental health, and hospital services.29 People in the lowest income group were almost twice as likely as those in the highest income group to visit the emergency department for treatment. 30 Part of this may be caused by differences in access to care. Low-income Canadians are more likely to report that they have not received needed health care in the past 12 months.31 Those in the lowest income groups are 50% less likely than those in the highest income group to see a specialist or get care in the evenings or on weekends, and 40% more likely to wait more than five days for a doctor's appointment.32
Barriers to health care access are not the only issue. Research in the U.K.33 and U.S.34 has found that compliance with medical treatment tends to be lower in disadvantaged groups, leading to pain, missed appointments, increased use of family practice services and increased emergency department visits, and corresponding increases in cost. In the U.S., non-adherence has been attributed to 100,000 deaths annually.35 Researchers have reported that those in the lowest income groups are three times less likely to fill prescriptions, and 60% less able to get needed tests because of cost.36
These differences have financial costs. In Manitoba for example, research conducted in 1994 showed that those in the lowest income decile used services totaling $216 million (12.2%). In the same year, those in the highest income decile consumed $97 million (5.5%) of expenditures. If expenditures for the bottom half of the population by income had been the same as the median, Manitoba would have saved $319 million or 23.1% of their health care budget. 37 According to a 2011 report, low-income residents in Saskatoon consume an additional $179 million in health care costs than middle income earners.38
To reduce the burden of illness and therefore system costs, Canada needs to improve the underlying social and economic determinants of health of Canadians. However, until these changes have time to improve the health status of the population, there will still be a large burden of illness correlated to these underlying deficiencies. As a result, the health system will need to be adequately resourced to address the consequences of the social determinants of health.
AREAS FOR ACTION
The WHO Commission on the Social Determinants of Health identified four categories through which actions on social determinants can be taken. These include:
* reducing social stratification by reducing inequalities in power, prestige, and income linked to socio-economic position;
* decreasing the exposure of individuals and populations to the health-damaging factors they may face;
* reducing the vulnerability of people to the health damaging conditions they face; and
* intervening through health care to reduce the consequences of ill health caused by the underlying determinants.39
All of these areas offer possibilities for action by the physician community. The following section provides suggestions for action by the medical profession through: CMA and national level initiatives; medical education; leadership and research; and clinical practice.
CMA and national level initiatives
Despite the strong relationship between the social determinants of health and health, little in the way of effective action has resulted. CMA and its partners can and should, advocate for research and push for informed healthy public policy, including health impact assessments for government policies. Additionally, targeted population health programs aimed at addressing the underlying determinants should be supported.
All Canadians need a better understanding of the health trends and the impacts of various social and economic indicators. Information about the differences in specific health indicators, collected over time,40 is essential to the task of describing underlying health trends and the impacts of social and economic interventions. Data within primary care practices could be assembled into (anonymous) community-wide health information databases, to address this need.
CMA recommends that:
1. The federal government recognize the relationship of the social determinants of health on the demands of the health care system and that it implement a requirement for all cabinet decision-making to include a Health Impact Assessment.
2. Options be examined for minimizing financial barriers to necessary medical care including pharmaceuticals and medical devices necessary for health.
3. Federal and provincial/territorial governments examine ways to improve the social and economic circumstances of all Canadians.
4. Efforts be made to educate the public about the effect of social determinants on individual and population health.
5. Appropriate data be collected and reported on annually. This data should be locally usable, nationally comparable and based on milestones across the life course.
Medical education is an effective means to provide physicians with the information and tools they require to understand the impact of social determinants on the health of their patients and deal with them accordingly.41 In 2001, Health Canada published a report in which they stated that the primary goal of medical education should be the preparation of graduates who know how to reduce the burden of illness and improve the health of the communities in which they practice.42 Among the report's recommendations was a call for greater integration of the social determinants in medical curricula.43 Although the CanMEDS framework has been a part of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada's accreditation process since 2005, challenges to the integration of these competencies remain.44
The report called for a greater emphasis on providing medical students with firsthand experiences in the community and with distinct populations (service learning),45 which addresses the difficulties in teaching the social aspects of medicine within a traditional classroom or hospital setting.46 Many such programs exist across the country.47 However, these programs are still limited and there is a need to increase the availability of longitudinal programs which allow students to build on the skills they develop throughout medical school.
Increasingly residency programs which focus on the social determinants of health are being offered.48 These programs are a means of providing physicians with the proper tools to communicate with patients from diverse backgrounds49 and reduce behaviours that marginalized patients have identified as barriers to health services.50 It also provides residents with physician role models who are active in the community. However, medical residents note a lack of opportunities to participate in advocacy during residency.51 Further, while experiential programs are effective in helping to reduce barriers between physicians and patients from disadvantaged backgrounds, greater recruitment of medical students from these marginalized populations should also be explored and encouraged.
Finally, physicians in practice need to be kept up to date on new literature and interventions regarding the social determinants. Innovations which help address health equity in practice should be shared with interested physicians. In particular, there is a need for accredited continuing medical education (CME) and a means to encourage uptake.52
CMA recommends that:
6. Greater integration of information on the social determinants and health inequity be provided in medical school to support the CanMEDS health advocate role
7. All medical schools and residency programs offer service learning programs, to provide students with an opportunity to work with diverse populations in inner city, rural and remote settings, and to improve their skills in managing the impact of the social determinants on their patients.
8. CME on the social determinants of health and the physician role in health equity be offered and incentivized for practising physicians.
Leadership and research
Within many communities in Canada, there are physicians who are working to address social determinants and health equity within the patient populations they serve. This is done in many cases through collaboration with partners within and outside of the health care system. Providing these local physician leaders with the tools they need to build these partnerships, and influence the policies and programs that affect their communities is a strategy that needs to be explored.
Evidence-based research about health equity, the clinical setting and the role of physicians is underdeveloped. Interested physicians may wish to participate in research about practice level innovations, as a means of contributing to the evidence base for 'health equity' interventions or simply to share best practices with interested colleagues. Further, physicians can provide the medical support to encourage the adoption of early childhood development practices for example, which support later adult health. In time, research will contribute to training, continuing medical education and potentially to clinical practice guidelines.
Physicians can provide leadership in health impact assessments and equity audits within the health care system as well. Data is essential to identify health equity challenges within a program, to propose and test measures that address the issues underlying the disparities. Formal audits and good measurement are essential to develop evidence-based policy improvements.53 Innovative programs such as those within the Saskatoon Health Region and the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto are examples of using these tools to improve access and reduce inequities.
CMA recommends that:
9. Physicians who undertake leadership and advocacy roles should be protected from repercussions in the workplace, e.g., the loss of hospital privileges.
10. Physician leaders explore opportunities to strengthen the primary care public health interface within their communities by working with existing agencies and community resources.
11. Physician leaders work with their local health organizations and systems to conduct health equity impact assessments in order to identify challenges and find solutions to improve access and quality of care.
12. Physicians be encouraged to participate in or support research on best practices for the social determinants of health and health equity. Once identified, information sharing should be established in Canada and internationally.
In consultation with identified health equity physician champions, a number of clinical interventions have been identified which are being undertaken by physicians across the country. These interventions could be undertaken in many practice settings given the right supports, and could be carried out by various members of the collaborative care team.1
First, a comprehensive social history is essential to understand how to provide care for each patient in the context of their life.54 There are a number of tools that can be used for such a consultation and more are in development.55 However, consolidation of the best ideas into a tool that is suitable for the majority of health care settings is needed. There is some concern that asking these questions is outside of the physician role. The CanMEDS health advocate role clearly sees these types of activities as part of the physician role.56 The 'Four Principles of Family Medicine' defined by the College of Family Physicians of Canada, affirms this role for physicians as well.57
Community knowledge was identified as a strategy for helping patients. Physicians who were aware of community programs and services were able to refer patients if/when social issues arose.58 Many communities and some health providers have developed community resource guides.59 For some physicians, developing a network of community resources was the best way to understand the supports available.
As a corollary, physicians noted their work in helping their patients become aware of and apply for the various social programs to which they are entitled. The programs vary by community and province/territory, and include disability, nutritional supports and many others. Most if not all of these programs require physicians to complete a form in order for the individual to qualify. Resources are available for some of these programs,60 but more centralized supports for physicians regardless of practice location or province/territory are needed.
Physicians advocate on behalf of their patients by writing letters confirming the medical limitations of various health conditions or the medical harm of certain exposures.61 For example, a letter confirming the role of mold in triggering asthma may lead to improvements in the community housing of an asthmatic. Additionally, letters might help patients get the health care services and referrals that they require. As identified leaders within the community, support from a physician may be a 'game-changer' for patients.
Finally, the design of the clinic, such as hours of operation or location, will influence the ability of people to reach care.62
CMA recommends that:
13. Tools be provided for physicians to assess their patients for social and economic causes of ill health and to determine the impact of these factors on treatment design.
14. Local databases of community services and programs (health and social) be developed and provided to physicians. Where possible, targeted guides should be developed for the health sector.
15. Collaborative team-based practice be supported and encouraged.
16. Resources or services be made available to physicians so that they can help their patients identify the provincial/territorial and federal programs for which they may qualify.
17. Physicians be cognizant of equity considerations when considering their practice design and patient resources.
18. All patients be treated equitably and have reasonable access to appropriate care, regardless of the funding model of their physician.
Socio-economic factors play a larger role in creating (or damaging) health than either biological factors or the health care system. Health equity is increasingly recognized as a necessary means by which we will make gains in the health status of all Canadians and retain a sustainable publicly funded health care system. Addressing inequalities in health is a pillar of CMA's Health Care Transformation initiative. Physicians as clinicians, learners, teachers, leaders and as a profession can take steps to address the problems on behalf of their patients.
1 A full review of the consultations is provided in the companion paper The Physician and Health Equity: Opportunities in Practice.
1 Khalema, N. Ernest (2005) Who's Healthy? Who's Not? A Social Justice Perspective on Health Inequities. Available at: http://www.uofaweb.ualberta.ca/chps/crosslinks_march05.cfm
2 World Health Organization (2008) Closing the gap in a generation: Health equity through action on the social determinants of health: Executive Summary. Available at: http://whqlibdoc.who.int/hq/2008/WHO_IER_CSDH_08.1_eng.pdf
3 Public Health Agency of Canada (N.D.) The Social Determinants of Health: An Overview of the Implications for Policy and the Role of the Health Sector. Available at: http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/ph-sp/oi-ar/pdf/01_overview_e.pdf
4 Keon, Wilbert J. & Lucie Pépin (2008) Population Health Policy: Issues and Options. Available at: http://www.parl.gc.ca/Content/SEN/Committee/392/soci/rep/rep10apr08-e.pdf
5 Friel, Sharon (2009) Health equity in Australia: A policy framework based on action on the social determinants of obesity, alcohol and tobacco. The National Preventative Health Taskforce. Available at: http://www.health.gov.au/internet/preventativehealth/publishing.nsf/Content/0FBE203C1C547A82CA257529000231BF/$File/commpaper-hlth-equity-friel.pdf
6 Wilkinson, Richard & Michael Marmot eds. (2003) Social Determinants of Health: The Solid Facts: Second Edition. World Health Organization. Available at: http://www.euro.who.int/__data/assets/pdf_file/0005/98438/e81384.pdf
7 Khalema, N. Ernest (2005) Who's Healthy?...
8 Dunn, James R. (2002) The Health Determinants Partnership Making Connections Project: Are Widening Income Inequalities Making Canada Less Healthy? Available at: http://www.opha.on.ca/our_voice/collaborations/makeconnxn/HDP-proj-full.pdf
10 Wilkins, Russ; Berthelot, Jean-Marie; and Ng E. . Trends in Mortality by Neighbourhood Income in Urban Canada from 1971 to 1996. Health Reports 13 [Supplement]: pp. 45-71
11 Mikkonen, Juha & Dennis Raphael (2010) Social Determinants of Health: The Canadian Facts. Available at: http://www.thecanadianfacts.org/The_Canadian_Facts.pdf
12 Raphael, Dennis (2003) "Addressing The Social Determinants of Health In Canada: Bridging The Gap Between Research Findings and Public Policy." Policy Options. March 2003 pp.35-40.
13 World Health Organization (2008) Closing the gap in a generation...
14 Hay, David I. (2006) Economic Arguments for Action on the Social Determinants of Health. Canadian Policy Research Networks. Available at: http://www.cprn.org/documents/46128_en.pdf
15 Mikkonen, Juha & Dennis Raphael (2010) Social Determinants of Health...
17 Whitehead, Margaret & Goran Dahlgren (2006) Concepts and principles for tackling social inequities in health: Levelling up Part 1. World Health Organization Europe. Available at: http://www.euro.who.int/__data/assets/pdf_file/0010/74737/E89383.pdf
18 Wilkinson, Richard & Michael Marmot eds. (2003) "Social Determinants of Health...
19 Ferrie, Jane E. (1999) "Health consequences of job insecurity." In Labour Market Changes and Job Security: A Challenge for Social Welfare and Health Promotion. World Health Organization. Available at: http://www.euro.who.int/__data/assets/pdf_file/0005/98411/E66205.pdf
20 Marmot, Michael (2010) Fair Society Healthy Lives: The Marmot Review: Executive Summary. Available at: http://www.marmotreview.org/AssetLibrary/pdfs/Reports/FairSocietyHealthyLivesExecSummary.pdf
21 World Health Organization (2008) Closing the gap in a generation...
22 Aboriginal Healing Foundation, Frequently Asked Questions (Ottawa: Canadian Government Publishing Directorate, 2009) Available at: http://www.ahf.ca/faq
23Health Council of Canada, "The Health Status Of Canada's First Nations, Métis And Inuit Peoples", 2005, Available at:http://healthcouncilcanada.ca.c9.previewyoursite.com/docs/papers/2005/BkgrdHealthyCdnsENG.pdf
24 Mikkonen, Juha & Dennis Raphael (2010) Social Determinants of Health...
25Health Council of Canada, (2005)"The Health Status Of Canada's First Nations, Métis And Inuit Peoples...
26 Dunn, James R. (2002) The Health Determinants Partnership...
27 CIHI/CPHI (2012) Disparities in Primary Health Care Experiences Among Canadians with Ambulatory Care Sensitive Conditions. http://secure.cihi.ca/cihiweb/products/PHC_Experiences_AiB2012_E.pdf
28 Munro, Daniel (2008) "Healthy People, Healthy Performance, Healthy Profits: The Case for Business Action on the Socio-Economic Determinants of Health." The Conference Board of Canada. Available at: http://www.conferenceboard.ca/Libraries/NETWORK_PUBLIC/dec2008_report_healthypeople.sflb
29 Williamson, Deanna L. et.al. (2006) "Low-income Canadians' experiences with health-related services: Implications for health care reform." Health Policy. 76(2006) pp. 106-121.
30 CIHI/CPHI (2012) Disparities in Primary Health Care Experiences Among Canadians...
31 Williamson, Deanna L. et.al. (2006) "Low-income Canadians'...
32 Mikkonen, Juha & Dennis Raphael (2010) Social Determinants of Health...
33 Neal, Richard D. et.al. (2001) "Missed appointments in general practice: retrospective data analysis from four practices." British Journal of General Practice. 51 pp.830-832.
34 Kennedy, Jae & Christopher Erb (2002) "Prescription Noncompliance due to Cost Among Adults with Disabilities in the United States." American Journal of Public Health. Vol.92 No.7 pp. 1120-1124.
35 Bibbins-Domingo, Kirsten & M. Robin DiMatteo. Chapter 8: Assessing and Promoting Medication Adherence. pp. 81-90 in King, Talmadge E, Jr. & Margaret B. Wheeler ed. (2007) Medical Management of Vulnerable and Underserved Patients...
36 Mikkonen, Juha & Dennis Raphael (2010) Social Determinants of Health...
37 Dunn, James R. (2002) The Health Determinants Partnership...
38 Saskatoon Poverty Reduction Partnership (2011) from poverty to possibility...and prosperity: A Preview to the Saskatoon Community Action Plan to Reduce Poverty. Available at: http://www.saskatoonpoverty2possibility.ca/pdf/SPRP%20Possibilities%20Doc_Nov%202011.pdf
39 World Health Organization (2005) Action On The Social Determinants Of Health: Learning From Previous Experiences. Available at: http://www.who.int/social_determinants/resources/action_sd.pdf
40 Braveman, Paula (2003) "Monitoring Equity in Health and Healthcare: A Conceptual Framework."Journal of Health, Population and Nutrition. Sep;21(3):181-192.
41 Royal College of Physicians (2010) How doctors can close the gap: Tackling the social determinants of health through culture change, advocacy and education. Available at: http://www.marmotreview.org/AssetLibrary/resources/new%20external%20reports/RCP-report-how-doctors-can-close-the-gap.pdf
42 Health Canada (2001) Social Accountability: A Vision for Canadian Medical Schools. Available at: http://www.medicine.usask.ca/leadership/social-accountability/pdfs%20and%20powerpoint/SA%20-%20A%20vision%20for%20Canadian%20Medical%20Schools%20-%20Health%20Canada.pdf
44 Dharamsi, Shafik; Ho, Anita; Spadafora, Salvatore; and Robert Woollard (2011) "The Physician as Health Advocate: Translating the Quest for Social Responsibility into Medical Education and Practice." Academic Medicine. Vol.86 No.9 pp.1108-1113.
45 Health Canada (2001) Social Accountability: A Vision for Canadian Medical Schools...
46 Meili, Ryan; Fuller, Daniel; & Jessica Lydiate. (2011) "Teaching social accountability by making the links: Qualitative evaluation of student experiences in a service-learning project." Medical Teacher. 33; 659-666.
47 Ford-Jones, Lee; Levin, Leo; Schneider, Rayfel; & Denis Daneman (2012) "A New Social Pediatrics Elective-A Tool for Moving to Life Course Developmental Health." The Journal of Pediatrics. V.160 Iss. 3 pp.357-358; Meili, Ryan; Ganem-Cuenca, Alejandra; Wing-sea Leung, Jannie; & Donna Zaleschuk (2011) "The CARE Model of Social Accountability: Promoting Cultural Change." Academic Medicine. Vol.86 No.9 pp.1114-1119.
48 Cuthbertson, Lana "U of A helps doctors understand way of life in the inner city." Edmonton Journal Dec 22, 2010. Available at: http://www2.canada.com/edmontonjournal/news/cityplus/story.html?id=943d7dc3-927b-4429-878b-09b6e00595e1
49 Willems, S.; Maesschalck De, S.; Deveugele, M.; Derese, A. & J. De Maeseneer (2005) "Socio-economic status of the patient and doctor-patient communication: does it make a difference?" Patient Education and Counseling. 56 pp. 139-146.
50 Bloch, Gary; Rozmovits, Linda & Broden Giambone (2011) "Barriers to primary care responsiveness to poverty as a risk factor for health." BioMed Central Family Practice. Available at: http://www.biomedcentral.com/content/pdf/1471-2296-12-62.pdf; Schillinger, Dean; Villela, Theresa J. & George William Saba. Chapter 6: Creating a Context for Effective Intervention in the Clinical Care of Vulnerable Patients. pp.59-67. In King, Talmadge E, Jr. & Margaret B. Wheeler ed. (2007) Medical Management of Vulnerable and Underserved Patients.
51 Dharamsi, Shafik; Ho, Anita; Spadafora, Salvatore; and Robert Woollard (2011) "The Physician as Health Advocate...
52 UCL Institute of Health Equity (2012) The Role of the Health Workforce in Tackling Health Inequalities...
53 Meili, Ryan (2012) A Healthy Society: How A Focus On Health Can Revive Canadian Democracy. Saskatoon: Canada. Purich Publishing Limited. pp.36
54 UCL Institute of Health Equity (2012) The Role of the Health Workforce in Tackling Health Inequalities...
55 Bloch, Gary (2011) "Poverty: A clinical tool for primary care "Family & Community Medicine, University of Toronto. Available at: http://www.healthprovidersagainstpoverty.ca/system/files/Poverty%20A%20Clinical%20Tool%20for%20Primary%20Care%20%28version%20with%20References%29_0.pdf ; Bricic, Vanessa; Eberdt, Caroline & Janusz Kaczorowski (2011) "Development of a Tool to Identify Poverty in a Family Practice Setting: A Pilot Study." International Journal of Family Medicine. Available at: http://www.hindawi.com/journals/ijfm/2011/812182/ ; Based on form developed by: Drs. V. Dubey, R.Mathew & K. Iglar; Revised by Health Providers Against Poverty (2008) " Preventative Care Checklist Form: For average-risk, routine, female health assessments." Available at: http://www.healthprovidersagainstpoverty.ca/Resourcesforhealthcareproviders ; Based on form developed by: Drs. V. Dubey, R.Mathew & K. Iglar; Revised by Health Providers Against Poverty (2008) " Preventative Care Checklist Form: For average-risk, routine, male health assessments." Available at: http://www.healthprovidersagainstpoverty.ca/Resourcesforhealthcareproviders
56 Frank, Dr. Jason R. ed. (2005) "The CanMEDS 2005 Physician Competency Framework: Better standards. Better physicians. Better Care." Office of Education: The Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. Available at: http://rcpsc.medical.org/canmeds/CanMEDS2005/CanMEDS2005_e.pdf
57 Tannenbaum, David et.al. (2011) "Triple C Competency-based Curriculum: Report of the Working Group on Postgraduate Curriculum Review-Part 1
58 UCL Institute of Health Equity (2012) The Role of the Health Workforce in Tackling Health Inequalities...
59 Doyle-Trace L, Labuda S. Community Resources in Cote-des-Neiges. Montreal: St Mary's Hospital Family Medicine Centre, 2011. (This guide was developed by medical residents Lara Doyle-Trace and Suzan Labuda at McGill University.); Mobile Outreach Street Health (N.D.) Pocket MOSH: a little MOSH for your pocket: A Practitioners Guide to MOSH and the Community We Serve. Available at: http://www.cdha.nshealth.ca/mobile-outreach-street-health
60 Health Providers Against Poverty (N.D.) Tools and Resources. Available at: http://www.healthprovidersagainstpoverty.ca/Resourcesforhealthcareproviders
61 Meili, Ryan (2012) A Healthy Society: How A Focus...pp.61; UCL Institute of Health Equity (2012) The Role of the Health Workforce in Tackling Health Inequalities...
62 Rachlis, Michael (2008) Operationalizing Health Equity: How Ontario's Health Services Can Contribute to Reducing Health Disparities. Wellesley Institute. Available at: http://wellesleyinstitute.com/files/OperationalizingHealthEquity.pdf
The Role of Health Professionals in Tobacco Cessation - Joint position statement
This statement was developed cooperatively by the Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists, Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association, Canadain Dental Hygienists Association, Canadian Medical Association, Canadian Nurses Association, and Canadian Physiotherapy Association.
There is a role for every Canadian health professional in tobacco-use cessation.1 Tobacco use2 inflicts a heavy burden on Canadians' health and on the Canadian health-care system, and health professionals can advocate effectively for tobacco-use cessation at the clinical and public health levels.
As providers of client and patient-centered services, health professionals are involved in tobacco cessation by:
* assessing and documenting all forms of tobacco use, willingness to quit and risk of exposure to second-hand smoke;
* discussing with clients and patients the negative health effects of tobacco use and exposure to second-hand smoke, and the health and other benefits (e.g., financial) of becoming tobacco free;
* offering to help, and helping, tobacco users to quit;
* offering a variety of tobacco-cessation strategies (e.g., counselling, behavioural therapy, self-help materials, pharmacotherapy) as appropriate to their knowledge, skills and tools;
* providing strategies for non-smokers to help them reduce their exposure to second-hand smoke;
* being knowledgeable about and providing referrals to community-based initiatives and resources;
* recognizing that relapse occurs frequently, and conducting follow-up assessment and intervention;
* tailoring interventions to the needs of specific populations (e.g., age, gender, ethnicity, diagnosis, socio-economic status); and
* using a collaborative, multidisciplinary approach.
As educators and researchers, health professionals are involved in tobacco cessation by:
* including education on tobacco-cessation strategies and strategies for resisting tobacco use in basic education programs for health professionals;
* providing professional development programs for health professionals on tobacco cessation;
* conducting research to encourage and improve health professionals' knowledge and provision of tobacco cessation; and
* communicating research evidence about tobacco-cessation strategies.
As administrators of health-care organizations, health professionals are involved in tobacco cessation by:
* offering training on tobacco cessation as part of employee orientation;
* providing access to professional education on tobacco cessation for employees;
* enforcing applicable bans on tobacco wherever health professionals are employed (e.g., health-care facilities, private homes); and
* ensuring that tobacco-cessation programs and tobacco-free workplaces are included in accreditation standards.
As public health advocates, health professionals are involved in tobacco cessation by:
* increasing public awareness that health professionals can help people remain tobacco free or stop using tobacco; and
* advocating for federal, provincial and territorial governments' investment in comprehensive tobacco control that includes programs, legislation and policies to prevent the uptake of tobacco and reduce tobacco use (e.g., bans on tobacco advertising). Programs must focus on health promotion and include community-based initiatives.
Tobacco is an addictive and harmful product, and its use is the leading cause of preventable death in Canada.3 Each year in Canada, more than 37,000 people die prematurely due to tobacco use.4 Approximately 17 per cent of the population 15 years of age and older (about 4.8 million Canadians) smoke.5 Strong evidence has revealed that smoking is associated with more than two dozen diseases and conditions.6 The economic costs of tobacco use are estimated at $17 billion annually ($4.4 billion in direct health-care costs and $12.5 billion in indirect costs such as lost productivity).7
Second-hand smoke is also harmful. Each year, more than 1,000 non-smoking Canadians die due to second-hand smoke.8 Exposure to second-hand smoke is the number two cause of lung cancer (smoking is the number one cause).9 Second-hand smoke can also aggravate allergies, bring about asthma attacks and increase the risk of bronchitis and pneumonia.10 Research also suggests that there may be a link between second-hand smoke and the risk of breast cancer.11
Tobacco use is the result of the complex interaction of individual and social factors, such as socio-economic status, having family members who smoke and exposure to marketing tactics of the tobacco industry. Reduction and elimination of tobacco use requires comprehensive, multi-faceted strategies addressing both physical dependence and social context. Such strategies will include:
* prevention - helping to keep non-users from starting to use tobacco;
* cessation - helping current smokers to quit, and helping prevent relapse; and
* protection - protecting all Canadians from the harmful effects of tobacco use and from the influences of tobacco industry marketing.
Prevention is the most important strategy of the three; being tobacco-free is a vital element of a healthy active life. Thus, for current tobacco users, quitting is the single most effective action they can take to enhance the quality and length of their lives.
Most tobacco users would like to improve their health, and in a Canadian survey 30 per cent of all smokers stated that they intended to quit as means of doing so.12 Indeed, in studies in Canada, the U.K. and Germany, smokers rated health concerns and current health problems as the primary reason for wanting to quit;13 other reasons why smokers quit include the cost of cigarettes14 and persistent advice to quit from family15 and health professionals.16 However, the relapse rate is very high because of the addictive nature of tobacco.17 Most smokers attempt to quit several times before they finally succeed.
Smoking cessation counselling is widely recognized as an effective clinical strategy. Even a brief intervention by a health professional significantly increases the cessation rate.18 Furthermore, counselling programs that initiate follow-up calls to smokers as a "proactive" measure have been found to increase smoking-cessation rates by 50 per cent.19 The majority of Canadians consult a health professional at least once a year,20 creating several "teachable moments" when they may be more motivated than usual to change unhealthy behaviours.21 A smoker's likelihood of quitting increases when he or she hears the message from a number of health-care providers from a variety of disciplines.22
However, health professionals encounter barriers that require solutions, notably:
- the need for better education for health professionals (e.g., how to identify smokers quickly and easily, which treatments are most effective, how such treatments can be delivered);
- the need to allow for sufficient time to provide counselling;
- the need to focus on preventive care by
* increasing funding for preventive care (e.g., providing reimbursement for smoking cessation interventions, follow-up or support); and
* encouraging health-care settings to facilitate preventive care (e.g., access to quick reference guides or tools to identify people with specific risk factors);
- the need to increase public awareness of the smoking cessation services a health professional can provide; and
- the need to recognize the frustration associated with the high rate of relapse. Because of the powerful nature of tobacco dependence, smokers often go through a long period of reaching readiness before they finally quit.
Bao Y., Duan N., & Fox S. A. (2006). Is some provider advice on smoking cessation better than no advice? An instrument variable analysis of the 2001 National Health Interview Survey. Health Services Research, 41(6), 2114-2135
Breitling, L. P., Rothenbacher, D., Stegmaier, C., Raum, E., & Brenner, H. (2009). Older smokers' motivation and attempts to quit smoking. Deutsches Arzteblatt International, 106(27), 451-455.
Canadian Action Network for the Advancement, Dissemination and Adoption of Practice-informed Tobacco Treatment. (2008). Dynamic guidelines for tobacco control in Canada Version 1.0 [Wiki clinical practice guidelines]. Toronto: Author.
Canadian Cancer Society. (2010). Second-hand smoke is dangerous. Toronto: Author. Retrieved May 19, 2010, from http://www.cancer.ca/canada-wide/prevention/quit%20smoking/second-hand%20smoke.aspx
Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, (2006). The costs of substance abuse in Canada in 2002. Ottawa: Author.
Canadian Lung Association. (2006). Smoking and tobacco: Second-hand smoke. Retrieved June 14, 2010, from http://www.lung.ca/protect-protegez/tobacco-tabagisme/second-secondaire/hurts-nuit_e.php
Canadian Dental Hygienists Association. (2004). Tobacco use cessation services and the role of the dental hygienist - a CDHA position paper. Canadian Journal of Dental Hygiene, 38(6), 260-279.
Canadian Medical Association. (2008). Tobacco control [Policy statement]. Ottawa: Author.
Fiore, M. C., Jaen, C. R., Baker, T. B., Bailey, W. C., Benowitz, N. L., & Curry, S. J. (2008). Treating tobacco use and dependence: 2008 update [Clinical practice guideline]. Rockville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service.
Health Canada. (2009). Smoking and your body: Health effects of smoking. Ottawa: Author. Retrieved June 17, 2010, from http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hc-ps/tobac-tabac/body-corps/index-eng.php
Health Canada. (2007). Overview of health risks of smoking. Ottawa: Author. Retrieved June 17, 2010, from http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hc-ps/tobac-tabac/res/news-nouvelles/risks-risques-eng.php
Nabalamba, A, & Millar, W. J. (2007). Going to the doctor [Statistics Canada, catalogue 82-003]. Health Reports, 18(1), 23-35. Retrieved January 26, 2011, from http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/82-003-x/2006002/article/doctor-medecin/9569-eng.pdf
Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada. (2005). Smoking in Canada: A statistical snapshot of Canadian smokers. Ottawa: Author. Retrieved May 14, 2010, from http://www.smoke-free.ca/pdf_1/SmokinginCanada-2005.pdf
Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario. (2007). Integrating smoking cessation into daily nursing practice [Nursing best practice guideline]. Toronto: Author.
Ross, H., Blecher, E., Yan, L., & Hyland, A. (2010) Do cigarette prices motivate smokers to quit? New evidence from the ITC survey. Addiction, November 2010.
Shields, M. (2004). A step forward, a step back: Smoking cessation and relapse. National Population Health Survey, Vol. 1, No. 1. Ottawa: Statistics Canada.
Statistics Canada. (2009). Canadian tobacco use monitoring survey (CTUMS): CTUMS 2009 wave 1 survey results. Ottawa: Author. Retrieved January 25, 2011, from http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hc-ps/tobac-tabac/research-recherche/stat/_ctums-esutc_2009/w-p-1_sum-som-eng.php
Stead, L. F., Lancaster, T., & Perera, R. (2006). Telephone counselling for smoking cessation (review). Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, Issue 3.
Vangeli, E., & West, R. (2008). Sociodemographic differences in triggers to quit smoking: findings from a national survey. Tobacco Control, 17(6), 410-415.
Young, R.P., Hopkins, R.J., Smith, M., & Hogarth, D.K. (2010). Smoking cessation: The potential role of risk assessment tools as motivational triggers. Post Graduate Medical Journal, 86(1011), 26-33.
Tobacco: The role of health professionals in smoking cessation [Joint position statement]. (2001)
1 For detailed recommendations and guidelines for tobacco treatment related to health professionals, see Canadian Action Network for the Advancement, Dissemination and Adoption of Practice-informed Tobacco Treatment, (2008); Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario, (2007); and Canadian Dental Hygienists Association, (2004).
2 For the purpose of this position statement, tobacco includes products that can be inhaled, sniffed, sucked or chewed (e.g., flavoured cigarillos, kreteks, chewing tobacco, moist snuff, betel or qat, hookah or shisha, bidis, cigars and pipes).
3 (Health Canada, 2009)
4 (Health Canada, 2007)
5 (Statistics Canada, 2009)
6 (Health Canada, 2007)
7 (Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, 2006)
8 (Canadian Cancer Society, 2010)
9 (Canadian Lung Association, 2006)
10 (Canadian Cancer Society, 2010)
11 (Canadian Cancer Society, 2010)
12 (Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada, 2005)
13 (Vangeli & West, 2008; Ontario Tobacco Research Unit - Tobacco Informatics Monitoring System (TIMS), 2008; Breitling, Rothenbacher, Stegmaier, Raum & Brenner, 2009)
14 (Ross, Blecher, Yan & Hyland, 2010)
15 (Young, Hopkins, Smith & Hogarth, 2010)
16 (Bao, Duan & Fox, 2006)
17 (Fiore et al., 2008; Shields, 2004)
18 (Fiore et al., 2008)
19 (Stead, Lancaster & Perera, 2006)
20 (Nabalamba & Millar, 2007)
21 (Canadian Medical Association, 2008)
22 (Fiore et al., 2008)
Restricting Marketing of Unhealthy Foods and Beverages to Children and Youth in Canada: A Canadian Health Care and Scientific Organization Policy Consensus Statement
Federal government to immediately
begin a legislative process to restrict all
marketing targeted to children under the
age of 13 of foods and beverages high in
saturated fats, trans-fatty acids, free
sugars or sodium and that in the interim
the food industry immediately ceases
marketing of such food to children.
PURPOSE OF STATEMENT
This policy consensus statement was developed to
reflect the growing body of evidence linking the
promotion and consumption of diets high in
saturated fats, trans-fatty acids, free sugars or
sodium1 to cardiovascular and chronic disease
(hypertension, dyslipidemia, diabetes mellitus,
obesity, cancer, and heart disease and stroke)—
leading preventable risk factors and causes of death
and disability within Canada and worldwide. (1-3)
(1) For the remainder of the document, reference to foods
high in saturated fats, trans-fatty acids, free sugars or
sodium will be framed as foods high in fats, sugars or
The current generation of Canadian children is
expected to live shorter, less healthy lives as a
result of unhealthy eating. (4) Canadians’
overconsumption of fat, sodium and sugar, rising
rates of childhood obesity, growing numbers of
people with cancer, heart disease and stroke, and
the combined strain they exert on the health care
system and quality of life for Canadians necessitates
immediate action for Canadian governments and
policy-makers. Restricting the marketing of
unhealthy foods and beverages directed at children
is gaining increasing international attention as a
cost-effective, population-based intervention to
reduce the prevalence and the burden of chronic
and cardiovascular diseases through reducing
children’s exposure to, and consumption of,
disease-causing foods. (2,5,6)
In May 2010, the World Health Organization (WHO
released a set of recommendations on the
marketing of foods and non-alcoholic beverages to
children (5) and called on governments worldwide
to reduce the exposure of children to advertising
messages that promote foods high in saturated fats,
trans-fatty acids, free sugars or sodium and to
reduce the use of powerful marketing techniques. In
June 2012, the follow-up document, A Framework
for Implementing the Set of Recommendations on
the Marketing of Foods and Non-Alcoholic
Beverages to Children, (7) was released.
The policy aim should be to reduce the impact
on children of marketing of foods high in
saturated fats, trans-fatty acids, free sugars,
WHO (2010): Recommendation 1
What this policy consensus statement offers is the
perspective of many major national health care
professional and scientific organizations to guide
Canadian governments and non-government
organizations on actions that need to be taken to
protect the health of our future generations, in part
by restricting the adverse influence of marketing of
foods high in fat, sugar or sodium to Canadian
children and youth.
SUMMARY OF EVIDENCE AND RATIONALE
-Young children lack the cognitive ability to
understand the persuasive intent of marketing
or assess commercial claims critically. (8) in
1989 the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that
“advertisers should not be able to capitalize
upon children’s credulity” and “advertising
directed at young children is per se
-The marketing and advertising of information or
products known to be injurious to children’s
health and wellbeing is unethical and infringes
on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child
which stipulates that, “In all actions concerning
children … the best interests of the child shall
be a primary consideration.” (9)
- Unhealthy food advertising during children’s
television programs in Canada is higher than in
many countries, with children being exposed to
advertisements for unhealthy foods and
beverages up to 6 times per hour. (10)
- Unhealthy food and beverage advertising
influences children’s food preferences,
purchase requests and consumption patterns
and has been shown to be a probable cause of
childhood overweight and obesity by the WHO.
- The vast majority of Canadians (82%) want
government intervention to place limits on
advertising unhealthy foods and beverages to
- The regulation of food marketing to children is
an effective and cost-saving population-based
intervention to improve health and prevent
- Several bills have been introduced into the
House of Commons to amend the Competition
Act and the Food and Drug Act to restrict
commercial advertising, including food, to
children under 13 years of age. None have yet
been passed. (15)
- Canada’s current approach to restricting
advertising to children is not effective and is not
in line with the 2010 WHO recommendations on
the marketing of foods and beverages to
children, nor is it keeping pace with the direction
of policies being adopted internationally, which
ban or restrict unhealthy food and beverage
marketing targeted to children. (16,17)
The Supreme Court of Canada concluded
that “advertising directed at young
children is per se manipulative”
Irwin Toy Ltd. v. Québec (AG), 1989
FOOD MARKETING TO CHILDREN: A TIMELY
OPPORTUNITY FOR CANADA
Childhood obesity and chronic disease prevention
are collective priorities for action of federal,
provincial and territorial (F/P/T) governments.
Strategy 2.3b of the 2011 Federal, Provincial and
Territorial Framework for Action to Promote Healthy
Weights stipulates “looking at ways to decrease the
marketing of foods and beverages high in fat, sugar
and/or sodium to children. “(5, p. 31)
The 2010 Sodium Reduction Strategy for Canada
has also identified the need to “continue to explore
options to reduce the exposure of children to
marketing for foods that are high in sodium" as a
key activity for F/P/T governments to consider. (19,
In their 2010 set of recommendations, the WHO
stipulated that governments are best positioned to
lead and ensure effective policy development,
implementation and evaluation. (6)
To date, there has been no substantive movement
by the federal government to develop coordinated
national-level policies that change the way
unhealthy foods and beverages are produced,
marketed and sold. Current federal, provincial and
industry-led self-regulatory codes are inconsistent
in their scope and remain ineffective in their ability
to sufficiently reduce children’s exposure to
unhealthy food marketing, nor have they been
adequately updated to address the influx of new
marketing mediums to which children and youth in
Canada are increasingly subjected.
Quebec implemented regulations in 1980 restricting
all commercial advertising. (20) Although the ban
has received international recognition and is viewed
as world leading, several limitations remain, in part
due exposure of Quebec children to marketing from
outside Quebec, weak enforcement of the
regulations and narrow application of its provisions.
Accordingly, the undersigned are calling on the
federal government to provide strong leadership
and establish a legislative process for the
development of regulations that restrict all
commercial marketing of foods and beverages high
in saturated fats, trans-fatty acids, free sugars or
sodium to children.
Strong federal government action and commitment
are required to change the trajectory of chronic
diseases in Canada and institute lasting changes in
public health. Specifically:
Efforts must be made to ensure that
children…are protected against the impact
of marketing [of foods with a high content
of fat, sugar and sodium] and given the
opportunity to grow and develop in an
enabling food environment — one that
fosters and encourages healthy dietary
choices and promotes the maintenance of
healthy weight. (7, p. 6)
Such efforts to protect the health of children must
go beyond the realm of federal responsibility and
involve engagement, dialogue, leadership and
advocacy by all relevant stakeholders, including all
elected officials, the food and marketing sector,
public health, health care professional and scientific
organizations, and most importantly civil society.
The undersigned support the development of
policies that are regulatory in nature to create
national and/or regional uniformity in
implementation and compliance by industry.
“Realizing the responsibility of governments
both to protect the health of children and to
set definitions in policy according to public
health goals and challenges — as well as to
ensure policy is legally enforced — statutory
regulation has the greatest potential to achieve
the intended or desired policy impact.”
WHO (2012), p. 33
The following outline key definitions and
components of an effective and comprehensive
policy on unhealthy food and beverage marketing
to children and should be used to guide national
policy scope and impact.
- Age of Child: In the context of broadcast
regulations, the definition of “age of child”
typically ranges from under 13 years to under
16 years. In Canada, Quebec’s Consumer
Protection Act (20) applies to children under
13 years of age. Consistent with existing
legislation, this report recommends that policies
restricting marketing of unhealthy foods and
beverages be directed to children less than
13 years of age at a minimum.
While the science on the impact of marketing on
children over 13 is less extensive, emerging
research reveals that older children still require
protection and may be more vulnerable to newer
forms of marketing (i.e., digital media ), in which
food and beverage companies are playing an
increasingly prominent role. (21-23) Strong
consideration should be given to extending the
age of restricting the marketing of unhealthy
food and beverage to age 16.
- Unhealthy Food and Beverages: In the absence
of a national standardized definition for “healthy”
or “unhealthy” foods, this document defines
unhealthy foods broadly as foods with a high
content of saturated fats, trans-fatty acids, free
sugars or sodium, as per the WHO
recommendations. (5) It is recommended that a
robust and comprehensive definition be
developed by an interdisciplinary stakeholder
- Focus on Marketing: Marketing is more than
advertising and involves:
…any form of commercial communication or
message that is designed to, or has the
effect of, increasing the recognition, appeal
and/ or consumption of particular products
and services. It comprises anything that acts
to advertise or otherwise promote a product
or service. (6, p. 9)
This definition goes beyond the current legal
definition of advertisement outlined in the Food
and Drug Act as “any representation by any
means whatever for the purpose of promoting
directly or indirectly the sale or disposal of any
food, drug, cosmetic or device.” (24)
- Marketing Techniques, Communication Channels
and Locations: Legislation restricting unhealthy
food marketing needs to be sufficiently
comprehensive to address the broad scope of
marketing and advertising techniques that have a
particularly powerful effect on children and
youth. This includes, but is not limited to, the
. Direct electronic marketing (email, SMS)
. Mobile phones
. Video and adver-games
. Characters, brand mascots and/or celebrities,
including those that are advertiser-generated
. Product placement
. Point-of-purchase displays
. Cinemas and theatres
. Competitions and premiums (free toys)
. Children’s institutions, services, events and
activities (schools, event sponsorship)
. “Viral and buzz marketing” (25,26)
. Directed to Children: The criteria used by the
Quebec Consumer Protection Act (20) to
determine whether an advertisement is “directed
at children” offers a starting point in developing
national legislation regarding child-directed
media. The loopholes in the Quebec Consumer
Protection Act criteria, namely allowing
advertising of unhealthy foods and beverages
directed at adults during children’s programming,
will necessitate the development of an
alternative approach or set of criteria that
reflects the range of media to which children are
exposed and when they are exposed, in addition
to the proportion of the audience that is made up
Quebec Consumer Protection Act
To determine whether or not an
advertisement is directed at persons under
thirteen years of age, account must be taken
of the context of its presentation, and in
a)the nature and intended purpose of the
b)the manner of presenting such
c)the time and place it is shown.
1. Federal Government Leadership
1.1 Immediately and publicly operationalize the
WHO set of recommendations on the marketing
of foods and non-alcoholic beverages to
In working toward the implementation of the
WHO recommendations, the federal
government is strongly urged to accelerate
implementation of the WHO Framework for
Implementing the Set of Recommendations on
the Marketing of Foods and Beverages to
Children. To this end, the Government of
Canada is urged to:
1.2 Convene a Federal, Provincial and Territorial
Working Group on Food Marketing to Children
to develop, implement and monitor policies to
restrict unhealthy food and beverage marketing
to children. As stipulated within the WHO
The government-led working group should
ultimately reach consensus on the priorities
for intervention, identify the available policy
measures and decide how they best can be
implemented. (7, p.13)
1.3 In developing policies, it is recommended that
the working group:
- Develop standardized criteria and an
operational definition to distinguish and
classify “unhealthy” foods. Definitions
should be developed using objective,
evidence-based methods and should be
developed and approved independent of
- Develop a set of definitions/specifications
that will guide policy scope and
implementation. Consistent with the WHO
recommendations, the working group is
encouraged to apply the policy
specifications identified above.
- Set measurable outcomes, targets and
timelines for achievement of targets for
industry and broadcasters to restrict
unhealthy food marketing to children in all
forms and settings. It is recommended that
policies be implemented as soon as possible
and within a 3-year time frame.
- Establish mechanisms for close monitoring
and enforcement through defined rewards
and/or penalties by an independent
regulatory agency that has the power and
infrastructure to evaluate questionable
advertisements and enforce penalties for
(2) Such an infrastructure could be supported
though the Canadian Radio-television and
Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), similar
to the authority of the US Federal Trade
Commission (FTC), the Canadian Food
Inspection Agency or the Food and Drug Act via
the development of an advertising investigation
The nature and extent of penalties imposed should be sufficiently
stringent to deter violations. Enforcement
mechanisms should be explicit, and infringing
companies should be exposed publicly.
- Develop evaluation mechanisms to assess
process, impact and outcomes of food
marketing restriction policies. Components
should include scheduled reviews (5 years or
as agreed upon) to update policies and/or
strategies. To showcase accountability,
evaluation findings should be publicly
1.4 Provide adequate funding to support the
successful implementation and monitoring of
the food marketing restriction policies.
1.5 Collaborate with the Canadian Institutes of
Health Research and other granting councils to
fund research to generate baseline data and
address gaps related to the impact of marketing
in all media on children and how to most
effectively restrict advertising unhealthy foods
to children. (27)
1.6 Fund and commission a Canadian economic
modeling study to assess the cost-effectiveness
and the relative strength of the effect of
marketing in comparison to other influences on
children’s diets and diet-related health
outcomes. Similar studies have been
undertaken elsewhere and highlight cost–
benefit savings from restricting unhealthy food
1.7 Call on industry to immediately stop marketing
foods to children that are high in fats, sugar or
2. Provincial, Territorial and Municipal
2.1 Wherever possible, incorporate strategies to
reduce the impact of unhealthy food and
beverage marketing to children into provincial
and local (public) health or related strategic
action plans, and consider all settings that are
frequented by children.
2.2 Pass and/or amend policies and legislation
restricting unhealthy food and beverage
marketing to children that go beyond
limitations stipulated in federal legislation and
regulations and industry voluntary codes.
2.3 Until federal legislation is in place, strike a P/T
Steering Committee on Unhealthy Food
Marketing to Children to establish
interprovincial consistency related to key
definitions and criteria and mechanisms for
enforcement, as proposed above.
2.4 Collaborate with local health authorities, non-
governmental organizations and other
stakeholders to develop and implement
education and awareness programs on the
harmful impacts of marketing, including but not
limited to unhealthy food and beverage
2.5 Call on industry to immediately stop marketing
foods to children that are high in fats, sugar or
3. Non-governmental Organizations
(NGOs), Health Care Organizations,
Health Care Professionals
3.1 Publicly endorse this position statement and
advocate to all Canadian governments to
restrict marketing of unhealthy foods to
children and youth in Canada.
3.2 Collaborate with governments at all levels to
facilitate implementation and enforcement of
federal/provincial/municipal regulations or
3.3 Wherever possible, incorporate and address
the need for restrictions on unhealthy food
and beverage marketing to children into
position papers, strategic plans, conferences,
programs and other communication mediums.
3.4 Support, fund and/or commission research to
address identified research gaps, including the
changing contexts and modes of marketing
and their implications on the nutritional status,
health and well-being of children and youth
3.5 Call on industry to immediately stop the
marketing of foods high in fat, sugar or
4. Marketing and Commercial Industry
4.1 Immediately cease marketing foods high in fats,
sugar or sodium.
4.2 Amend the Canadian Children’s Food and
Beverage Advertising Initiative (CAI) nutrition
criteria used to re-define “better-for-you
products” to be consistent with currently
available international standards that are
healthier and with Canadian nutrient profiling
standards, once developed.
BACKGROUND AND EVIDENCE BASE
Non-communicable diseases (diabetes, stroke,
heart attack, cancer, chronic respiratory disease)
are a leading cause of death worldwide and are
linked by several common risk factors including high
blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, obesity,
unhealthy diets and physical inactivity. (1,2,3 28)
The WHO has predicted that premature death from
chronic disease will increase by 17% over the next
decade if the roots of the problem are not
Diet-related chronic disease risk stems from long-
term dietary patterns which start in childhood
(8,28). Canadian statistics reveal children, consume
too much fat, sodium and sugars (foods that cause
chronic disease) and eat too little fiber, fruits and
vegetables (foods that prevent chronic disease). (3)
There is evidence that (television) advertising of
foods high in fat, sugar or sodium is associated with
childhood overweight and obesity. (6,11) Children
and youth in Canada are exposed to a barrage of
marketing and promotion of unhealthy foods and
beverages through a variety of channels and
techniques – tactics which undermine and
contradict government, health care professional
and scientific recommendations for healthy eating.
Available research indicates that food marketing to
children influences their food preferences, beliefs,
purchase requests and food consumption patterns.
(8,29) A US study showed that children who were
exposed to food and beverage advertisements
consumed 45% more snacks than their unexposed
counterparts. (30) Similarly, preschoolers who were
exposed to commercials for vegetables (broccoli
and carrots) had a significantly higher preference
for these vegetables after multiple exposures (n=4)
compared to the control group. (31)
Economic modeling studies have shown that
restricting children’s exposure to food and beverage
advertising is a cost effective population based
approach to childhood obesity prevention, with the
largest overall gain in disability adjusted life years.
(13,14). Canada has yet to conduct a comparable
Marketing and Ethics
Foods and beverages high in fats, sugars or sodium
is one of many health compromising products
marketed to children. It has been argued that policy
approaches ought to extend beyond marketing of
unhealthy foods and beverages to one that restricts
marketing of all products to children, as practiced in
Quebec (7,26,32). Article 36 of the Convention on
the Rights of the Child, to which Canada is a
signatory, states that, “children should be protected
from any activity that takes advantage of them or
could harm their welfare and development.” (9)
Restricting marketing of all products has been
argued to be the most comprehensive policy option
in that it aims to protect children from any
commercial interest and is grounded in the
argument that children have the right to a
commercial-free childhood (7, 25,26,32). The focus
on restricting unhealthy food and beverage
marketing was based in consultations with national
health organizations whose mandates, at the time
of writing, were more aligned with a focus on
unhealthy foods and beverages.
This policy statement is not opposed to, and does
not preclude further policy enhancements to
protect children from all commercial marketing, and
therefore encourages further advocacy in this area.
In order to inform the debate and help underpin
future policy direction, further research is needed.
Canada’s Food and Beverage Marketing
Television remains a primary medium for children’s
exposure to advertising, with Canadian children
aged 2–11 watching an average of 18 hours of
television per week. (26) In the past two decades,
the food marketing and promotion environment has
expanded to include Internet marketing, product
placement in television programs, films and DVDs,
computer and video games, peer-to-peer or viral
marketing, supermarket sales promotions, cross-
promotions between films and television programs,
use of licensed characters and spokes-characters,
celebrity endorsements, advertising in children’s
magazines, outdoor advertising, print marketing,
sponsorship of school and sporting activities,
advertising on mobile phones, and branding on toys
and clothing. (25,26)
A systematic review of 41 international studies
looking at the content analysis of children’s food
commercials found that the majority advertised
unhealthy foods, namely pre-sugared cereals, soft
drinks, confectionary and savoury snacks and fast
food restaurants. (33) In an analysis of food
advertising on children’s television channels across
11 countries, Canada (Alberta sample) had the
second-highest rate of food and beverage
advertising (7 advertisements per hour), 80% of
which were for unhealthy foods and beverages
defined as “high in undesirable nutrients and/or
Illustrating the influence of food packaging in
supermarkets, two Canadian studies found that for
six food product categories 75% of the products
were directed solely at children through use of
colour, cartoon mascots, pointed appeals to parents
and/or cross-merchandising claims, games or
activities. Of the 63% of products with nutrition
claims, 89% were classified as being “of poor
nutritional quality” due to high levels of sugar, fat,
or sodium when judged against US-based nutrition
criteria. Less than 1% of food messages specifically
targeted to children were for fruits and vegetables.
Food is also unhealthily marketed in schools. A
recent study of 4,936 Canadian students from
grades 7 to 10 found that 62% reported the
presence of snack-vending machines in their
schools, and that this presence was associated with
students’ frequency of consuming vended goods.
(36) In another Canadian analysis, 28% of
elementary schools reported the presence of some
form of advertising in the school and 19% had an
exclusive marketing arrangement with Coke or
Pepsi. (37) Given children’s vulnerability, a key
tenant of the WHO recommendations on marketing
to children is that “settings where children gather
should be free from all forms of marketing of foods
high in saturated fats, trans-fatty acids, and free
sugars or sodium.” (6, p.9) and need to be included
in development of food marketing policies directed
The Canadian public wants government oversight in
restricting unhealthy food marketing to children. A
nation-wide survey of over 1200 Canadian adults
found 82% want limits placed on unhealthy food
and beverage advertising to children; 53% support
restricting all marketing of high-fat, high-sugar or
high-sodium foods aimed directly at children and
Canada’s Commercial Advertising Environment
Internationally, 26 countries have made explicit
statements on food marketing to children and 20
have, or are in the process of, developing policies in
the form of statutory measures, official guidelines
or approved forms of self-regulation. (38) The
differences in the nature and degree of these
restrictions is considerable, with significant
variation regarding definition of child, products
covered, communication and marketing strategies
permitted and expectations regarding
implementation, monitoring and evaluation. (38,39)
With the exception of Quebec, Canada’s advertising
policy environment is restricted to self-regulated
rather than legislative measures with little
monitoring and oversight in terms of measuring the
impact of regulations on the intensity and
frequency of advertising unhealthy foods and
beverages to children. (39)
Nationally, the Food and Drug Act and the
Competition Act provide overarching rules on
commercial advertising and (loosely) prohibit selling
or advertising in a manner that is considered false,
misleading or deceptive to consumers. These laws,
however, contain no provisions dealing specifically
with unhealthy food advertising or marketing to
children and youth. (26) The Consumer Package
and Labeling Act outlines federal requirements
concerning the packaging, labeling, sale,
importation and advertising of prepackaged non-
food consumer products. Packaging and labels,
however, are not included under the scope of
advertising and therefore not subject to the
administration and enforcement of the Act and
Such loopholes have prompted the introduction of
three private member's bills into the House of
Commons to amend both the Competition Act and
the Food and Drugs Act. Tabled in 2007, 2009 and
2012, respectively, none of the bills have, to date,
advanced past the First Reading. (15)
The Canadian Code of Advertising Standards (Code)
and the Broadcast Code for Advertising to Children
(BCAC) together cover Canadian broadcast and non-
broadcast advertising. (23) While both have explicit
provisions/clauses to cover advertising directed to
children (12 years and younger), neither address or
explicitly cover unhealthy food and beverage
advertising. Further excluded are other heavily
used and persuasive forms of marketing directed to
children, including in-store promotions, packaging,
logos, and advertising in schools or at events, as
well as foreign media. (40)
Formed in 2008, the Canadian Children’s Food and
Beverage Advertising Initiative (CAI) defines
marketing standards and criteria to identify the
products that are appropriate or not to advertise to
children under 12 years old. Under this initiative,
participating food companies (N=19) are
encouraged to direct 100% of their advertising to
children under 12 to “better-for-you” products. (41)
In 2010, the scope of CAI was expanded to include
other media forms, namely video games, child-
directed DVDs and mobile media.
Despite reportedly high compliance by CAI
participants, (41) several fundamental loopholes
undermine its level of protection and effectiveness,
- Participation is voluntary, exempting non-
participators such as President’s Choice,
Wendy’s and A&W, from committing to CAI core
- Companies are allowed to create their own
nutrient criteria for defining “better-for-you” or
“healthier dietary choice” products. (32) A 2010
analysis revealed that up to 62% of these
products would not be acceptable to promote to
children by other countries’ advertising nutrition
- Companies are able to adopt their own
definition of what constitutes “directed at
children” under 12 years. (32) Participants'
definitions of child audience composition
percentage range from 25% to 50%, significantly
more lenient than current Quebec legislation
and other international regulatory systems.
- The initiative excludes a number of marketing
and advertising techniques primarily directed at
children, namely advertiser-generated
characters (e.g., Tony the Tiger), product
packaging, displays of food and beverage
products, fundraising, public service messaging
and educational programs. (26,27)
The Quebec Consumer Protection Act states that
“no person may make use of commercial
advertising directed at persons under thirteen years
of age.” (26) Despite its merits, the effectiveness of
the Quebec ban has been compromised. In its
current form, the ban does not protect children
from cross-border leakage of child-directed
advertisements from other provinces. (40) One
study found that while the ban reduced fast food
consumption by US$88 million per year and
decreased purchase propensity by 13% per week,
the outcomes primarily affected French-speaking
households with children, not their English-speaking
counterparts. (44) A more recent study looking at
the ban’s impact on television advertising arrived at
similar conclusions and found that Quebec French
subjects were exposed to significantly fewer candy
and snack promotions (25.4%, p<0.001) compared
to the Ontario English (33.7%) and Quebec English
(39.8%) groups. (40)
The ban has further been criticized for having a
weak definition of “advertisement”, which allows
adult-targeted advertisements for unhealthy foods
during children’s programming (37) and having
weak regulatory and monitoring structures. (37,40)
In assessing the effectiveness of Quebec’s
legislation in reducing children’s exposure to
unhealthy food advertising, it is important to note
that the ban was not developed to target or reduce
the marketing of foods and beverages specifically,
but rather to reduce the commercialization of
Public Policy: The Way Forward
Several legislative approaches have been
undertaken internationally to restrict unhealthy
food and beverage marketing. (7,43,45) While
more research is needed with regards to the impact
of restricting unhealthy food and beverage
marketing on child health outcomes (i.e., obesity), a
US study estimated that between 14-33% of
instances of childhood obesity could be prevented
by eliminating television advertising for unhealthy
food. (46) An Australian study found that a
restriction on non-core-food advertisement
between 7am and 8:30pm could reduce children’s
exposure to unhealthy food advertising by almost
80%. (47) An evaluation of the UK regulations
which restricts television advertising of all foods
high in fat, sugar and sodium found that since its
introduction there has been a 37% reduction in
unhealthy food advertisement seen by children.
Restrictions on food marketing are being
increasingly advocated internationally. A 2011
International Policy Consensus Conference
identified regulating marketing to children as a key
policy strategy to prevent childhood obesity. (48) A
similar recommendation was made at the
September 2011 United Nations high-level meeting
on the prevention and control of non-
communicable diseases. Restrictions on television
advertising for less healthful foods has also been
identified as an effective (Class I; Grade B)
population-based strategy to improve dietary
behaviors in children by the American Heart
Within Canada, non-governmental and other health
organizations are assuming an equally active role.
Among others, the Chronic Disease Prevention
Alliance of Canada, the Dietitians of Canada, the
Alberta Policy Coalition for Chronic Disease
Prevention, the Simcoe Board of Health, the
Thunder Bay and District Board of Health and the
Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington Board
of Health have issued position papers or statements
urging the federal government to implement more
stringent regulations on food and beverage
marketing to children. (26,42,48)
The current voluntary, industry self-regulated and
ineffective system of restricting the marketing and
advertising of foods and beverages fails to protect
Canadian Children and thereby contributes to the
rising rates of childhood obesity and the likelihood
of premature death and disability in our children’s
and future generations. Strong federal government
leadership and nationwide action from other levels
of government and other key stakeholders are
needed. Regulation restricting unhealthy food
advertising is internationally supported, with a
growing evidence base for expanding such
regulation to all forms of food marketing.
This policy statement offer an integrated, pragmatic
and timely response to the national stated priorities
of childhood obesity and chronic disease prevention
in Canada and supports the F/P/T vision of making
Canada, “…a country that creates and maintains the
conditions for healthy weights so that children can
have the healthiest possible lives.” (4)
This policy statement was funded by The Heart and Stroke
Foundation of Canada (HSFC) and the Institute of
Circulatory and Respiratory Health (CIHR) Chair in
Hypertension Prevention and Control, prepared with the
assistance of an ad hoc Expert Scientific Working Group,
reviewed and approved by the Hypertension Advisory
Committee and endorsed by the undersigned national
HYPERTENSION ADVISORY COMMITTEE
Manuel Arango, Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada
Norm Campbell, Canadian Society of Internal Medicine
Judi Farrell, Hypertension Canada
Mark Gelfer, College of Family Physicians of Canada
Dorothy Morris, Canadian Council of Cardiovascular Nurses
Rosana Pellizzari, Public Health Physicians of Canada
Andrew Pipe, Canadian Cardiovascular Society
Maura Rickets, Canadian Medical Association
Ross Tsuyuki, Canadian Pharmacists Association
Kevin Willis, Canadian Stroke Network
Norm Campbell, HSFC/CIHR Chair in Hypertension
Prevention and Control, Chair
Tara Duhaney, Policy Director, Hypertension Advisory
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