Helping physicians care for patients
Aider les médecins à prendre soin des patients
Canada is a nation on the precipice of great change. This change will be driven primarily by the economic and social implications of the major demographic shift already underway. The added uncertainties of the global economy only emphasize the imperative for federal action and leadership.
In this brief, the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased to present four recommendations to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance for meaningful federal action in support of a national seniors strategy; these are essential measures to prepare for an aging population.
Canada's demographic and economic imperative
In 2011 the first of wave of the baby boomer generation turned 65 and Canada's seniors population stood at 5 million.1 By 2036, seniors will represent up to 25% of the population.2 The impacts of Canada's aging population on economic productivity are multi-faceted.
An obvious impact will be fewer workers and a smaller tax base. Finance Canada projects that the number of working-age Canadians for every senior will fall from about 5 today to 2.7 by 2030.3
The projected surge in demand for services for seniors that will coincide with slower economic growth and lower government revenue will add pressure to the budgets of provincial and territorial governments. Consider that while seniors account for about one-sixth of the population, they consume approximately half of public health spending.4 Based on current trends and approaches, seniors' care is forecast to consume almost 62% of provincial/territorial health budgets by 2036.5
The latest fiscal sustainability report of the Parliamentary Budget Officer explains that the demands of Canada's aging population will result in "steadily deteriorating finances" for the provinces and territories and they "cannot meet the challenges of population ageing under current policy."6
Theme 1: Productivity
A) New federal funding to provincial/territorial governments
Canada's provincial and territorial leaders are aware of the challenges ahead. This July, the premiers issued a statement calling for the federal government to increase the Canada Health Transfer to 25% of provincial and territorial health care costs to address the needs of an aging population.
To support the innovation and transformation needed to address these needs, the CMA recommends that the federal government deliver additional funding on an annual basis beginning in 2016-17 to the provinces and territories by means of a demographic-based top-up to the Canada Health Transfer (Table 1). For the fiscal year 2016-17, this top-up would require $1.6 billion in federal investment.
Table 1: Allocation of the federal demographic-based top-up, 2016-20 ($million)7
All of Canada
Newfoundland and Labrador
Prince Edward Island
B) Federal support for catastrophic drug coverage
A major gap in Canada's universal health care system is the lack of universal access to prescription medications, long recognized as the unfinished business of medicare. Canada stands out as the only country with universal health care without universal pharmaceutical coverage.8
According to the Angus Reid Institute, more than one in five Canadians (23%) report that they or someone in their household did not take medication as prescribed because of the cost during the past 12 months.9 Statistics Canada's Survey of Household Spending reveals that households headed by a senior spend $724 per year on prescription medications, the highest among all age groups and over 60% more than the average household.10 Another recent study found that 7% of Canadian seniors reported skipping medication or not filling a prescription because of the cost.11
In addition to the very real harms to individuals, lack of coverage contributes to the inefficient use of Canada's scarce health resources. While there are sparse economic data in Canada on this issue, earlier research indicated that this inefficiency, which includes preventable hospital visits and admissions, represents an added cost of between $1 billion and $9 billion annually.12
As an immediate measure to support the health of Canadians and the productivity of the health care sector, the CMA recommends that the federal government establish a new funding program for catastrophic coverage of prescription medication. The program would cover prescription medication costs above $1,500 or 3% of gross household income on an annual basis. Research commissioned by the CMA estimates this would cost $1.48 billion in 2016-17 (Table 2). This would be a positive step toward comprehensive, universal prescription drug coverage.
Table 2: Projected cost of federal contribution to cover catastrophic prescription medication costs, by age cohort, 2016-2020 ($ million)13
Share of total cost
Under 35 years
35 to 44 years
45 to 54 years
55 to 64 years
65 to 74 years
75 years +
Theme 2: Infrastructure and communities
All jurisdictions across Canada are facing shortages in the continuing care sector. Despite the increased availability of home care, research commissioned for the CMA indicates that demand for continuing care facilities will surge as the demographic shift progresses.14
In 2012, it was reported that wait times for access to a long-term care facility in Canada ranged from 27 to over 230 days. It is estimated that 85% of "alternate level of care" patients in hospitals (i.e., patients who do not require hospital-level care) are in these beds because of the lack of availability of long-term care. Due to the significant difference in the cost of hospital care (approximately $846 per day) versus long-term care ($126 per day), the CMA estimates that the shortages in the long-term care sector represent an increased cost of $2.3 billion.
Despite the recognized need for infrastructure investment in the continuing care sector, to date, this sector has been excluded from the Building Canada Plan. The CMA recommends that the federal government amend the criteria of the Building Canada Plan to include capital investment in continuing care infrastructure, including retrofit and renovation. Based on previous estimates, the CMA recommends that $540 million be allocated for 2016-17 (Table 3).
Table 3: Estimated cost to address forecasted shortage in long-term care beds, 2016-20 ($ million)15
Forecasted shortage in long-term care beds
Estimated cost to address shortage
Federal share to address shortage in long-term care beds (based on 1/3 contribution)
Theme 3: Jobs
As previously mentioned, Canada's aging population will produce significant changes in the labour force. There will be fewer Canadian workers, each with a greater likelihood of having caregiving responsibilities for family and friends.
According to the report of the federal Employer Panel for Caregivers, Canadian employers "were surprised and concerned that it already affects 35% of the Canadian workforce."16 This report highlights key findings of the 2012 General Social Survey: 1.6 million caregivers took leave from work; nearly 600,000 reduced their work hours; 160,000 turned down paid employment; and, 390,000 quit their jobs to provide care. It is estimated that informal caregiving represents $1.3 billion in lost workforce productivity. These costs will only increase as Canada's demographic shift progresses.
In parallel to the increasing informal caregiving demands on Canadian workers, Canada's aging population will also increase the demand for personal care workers and geriatric competencies across all health and social care professions.17
Theme 4: Taxation
The above section focused on the economic costs of caregiving on the workforce. The focus of this section will be on the economic value caregivers provide while they take on an increased economic burden.
Statistics Canada's latest research indicates that 8.1 million Canadians are informal caregivers, 39% of whom primarily care for a parent.18 The Conference Board of Canada reports that in 2007 informal caregivers contributed over 1.5 billion hours of home care - more than 10 times the number of paid hours in the same year.19 The economic contribution of informal caregivers was estimated to be about $25 billion in 2009.20 This same study estimated that informal caregivers incurred over $80 million in out-of-pocket expenses related to caregiving in 2009.
Despite their tremendous value and important role, only a small fraction of caregivers caring for a parent received any form of government support.21 Only 5% of caregivers providing care to parents reported receiving financial assistance while 28% reported needing more assistance than they received.22
As a first step to providing increased support for Canada's family caregivers, the CMA recommends that the federal government amend the Caregiver and Family Caregiver Tax Credits to make them refundable. This would provide an increased amount of financial support for family caregivers. It is estimated that this measure will cost $90.8 million in 2016-17.23
The CMA recognizes that in the face of ongoing economic uncertainty the federal government may face pressures to avoid new spending initiatives. The CMA strongly encourages the federal government to adopt the four recommendations outlined in this submission rather than further delay making a meaningful contribution to meeting the future care needs of Canada's aging population. The CMA would welcome the opportunity to provide further information and its rationale for each recommendation.
1 Statistics Canada. Generations in Canada. Cat. No. 98-311-X2011003. Ottawa: Statistics Canada; 2012. Available: www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2011/as-sa/98-311-x/98-311-x2011003_2-eng.pdf
2 Statistics Canada. Canada year book 2012, seniors. Available: www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/11-402-x/2012000/chap/seniors-aines/seniors-aines-eng.htm
3 Finance Canada. Economic and fiscal implications of Canada's aging population. Ottawa: Finance Canada; 2012. Available: www.fin.gc.ca/pub/eficap-rebvpc/eficap-rebvpc-eng.pdf
4 Canadian Institute for Health Information. National health expenditure trends, 1975 to 2014. Ottawa: The Institute; 2014. Available: www.cihi.ca/web/resource/en/nhex_2014_report_en.pdf
5 Calculation by the Canadian Medical Association, based on Statistics Canada's M1 population projection and the Canadian Institute for Health Information age-sex profile of provincial-territorial health spending.
6 Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer. Fiscal sustainability report 2015. Ottawa: The Office; 2015. Available: www.pbo-dpb.gc.ca/files/files/FSR_2015_EN.pdf
7 Conference Board of Canada. Research commissioned for the CMA, July 2015.
8 Morgan SG, Martin D, Gagnon MA, Mintzes B, Daw JR, Lexchin J. Pharmacare 2020: The future of drug coverage in Canada. Vancouver: Pharmaceutical Policy Research Collaboration, University of British Columbia; 2015. Available: http://pharmacare2020.ca/assets/pdf/The_Future_of_Drug_Coverage_in_Canada.pdf
9 Angus Reid Institute. Prescription drug access and affordability an issue for nearly a quarter of Canadian households. Available: http://angusreid.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/2015.07.09-Pharma.pdf
10 Statistics Canada. Survey of household spending. Ottawa: Statistics Canada; 2013.
11 Canadian Institute for Health Information. How Canada compares: results From The Commonwealth Fund 2014 International Health Policy Survey of Older Adults. Available: www.cihi.ca/en/health-system-performance/performance-reporting/international/commonwealth-survey-2014
12 British Columbia Pharmacy Association. Clinical service proposal: medication adherence services. Vancouver: The Association; 2013. Available: www.bcpharmacy.ca/uploads/Medication_Adherence.pdf
13 Supra at note 7.
14 Conference Board of Canada. Research commissioned for the CMA, January 2013.
16 Government of Canada. Report from the Employer Panel for Caregivers: when work and caregiving collide, how employers can support their employees who are caregivers. Available: www.esdc.gc.ca/eng/seniors/reports/cec.shtml
17 Stall S, Cummings G, Sullivan T. Caring for Canada's seniors will take our entire health care workforce. Available: http://healthydebate.ca/2013/09/topic/community-long-term-care/non-md-geriatrics
18 Statistics Canada. Family caregivers: What are the consequences? Available: www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/75-006-x/2013001/article/11858-eng.htm
19 Conference Board of Canada. Home and community care in Canada: an economic footprint. Ottawa: The Board; 2012. Available: http://www.conferenceboard.ca/cashc/research/2012/homecommunitycare.aspx
20 Hollander MJ, Liu G, Chappeel NL. Who cares and how much? The imputed economic contribution to the Canadian health care system of middle aged and older unpaid caregivers providing care to the elderly. Healthc Q. 2009;12(2):42-59.
21 Supra at note 16.
23 Supra at note 7.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased to present this brief to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance regarding Bill C-462 Disability Tax Credit Promoters Restrictions Act.
The Canadian Medical Association represents 78,000 physicians in Canada; its mission is to serve and unite the physicians of Canada and to be the national advocate, in partnership with the people of Canada, for the highest standards of health and health care.
The CMA is pleased that the House of Commons has made Bill C-462 a priority. This bill is an important step toward addressing the unintended consequences that have emerged from the Disability Tax Credit since 2005.
Part 2: Issues to be addressed
In 2005, the Disability Tax Credit was expanded to allow individuals to back-file for up to 10 years. While this was a welcome tax measure for individuals with disabilities, the CMA has been urging the Canada Revenue Agency to address the numerous unintended consequences that have emerged. Central among these has been the emergence of a “cottage industry” of third-party companies engaged in a number of over-reaching tactics. The practices of these companies have included aggressive promotional activities to seek and encourage individuals to file the Disability Tax Credit. The primary driver behind these tactics is profit; some companies are charging fees of up to 40 per cent of an individual’s refund when the tax credit is approved.
Further to targeting a vulnerable population, these activities have yielded an increase in the quantity of Disability Tax Credit forms in physician offices and contributed to red tape in the health sector. In some cases, third parties have placed physicians in an adversarial position with their patients. We are pleased that this bill attempts to address the concerns we have raised.
The CMA supports Bill C-462 as a necessary measure to address the issues that have emerged since the changes to the Disability Tax Credit in 2005. However, to avoid additional unintended consequences, the CMA recommends that the Finance Committee address three issues prior to advancing Bill C-462.
First, as currently written, Bill C-462 proposes to apply the same requirements to physicians as to third-party companies if physicians apply a fee for form completion, a typical practice for uninsured physician services. Such fees are subject to guidelines and oversight by provincial and territorial medical regulatory colleges (see Appendix 1: CMA Policy on Third Party Forms: The Physician Role).
The CMA recommends that the Finance Committee:
Amend the definition of “promoters” under section 2 to exclude “a health care practitioner duly licensed under the applicable regulatory authority who provides health care and treatment.”
. If the committee imports the term “person” from the Income Tax Act, then the applicable section of Bill C-462 should be amended to specify that, for the purposes of the act, “Person does not include a health care practitioner duly licensed under the applicable regulatory authority who provides health care and treatment.”
Second, the CMA is concerned that one of the reasons individuals may be engaging the services of third-party companies is a lack of awareness of the purpose and benefits of the Disability Tax Credit. Additional efforts are required to ensure that the Disability Tax Credit form (Form T2201) be more informative and user-friendly for patients. Form T2201 should explain more clearly to patients the reason behind the tax credit, and explicitly indicate there is no need to use third-party companies to submit the claim to the CRA.
The CMA recommends that the Finance Committee:
. Recommend that the Canada Revenue Agency undertake additional efforts to ensure that the Disability Tax Credit form is more informative, accessible and user-friendly for patients.
Finally, the CMA recommends that a privacy assessment be undertaken before the bill moves forward in the legislative process. It appears that, as written, Bill C-462 would authorize the inter-departmental sharing of personal information. The CMA raises this issue for consideration because protecting the privacy of patient information is a key duty of a physician under the CMA Code of Ethics.
Part 3: Closing
The CMA encourages the Finance Committee to address these issues to ensure that Bill C-462 resolves existing problems with the Disability Tax Credit while not introducing new ones. The CMA appreciates the opportunity to provide input to the Finance Committee’s study of this bill and, with the amendments outlined herein, supports its passage.
Summary of Recommendations
The definition of “promoters” under section 2 of Bill C-462 should be amended to exclude “a health care practitioner duly licensed under the applicable regulatory authority who provides health care and treatment.”
If the Committee imports the definition of “persons” from the Income Tax Act, the applicable section of Bill C-462 should be amended to specify that, for the purposes of the act, “Person does not include a health care practitioner duly licensed under the applicable regulatory authority who provides health care and treatment.”
The Canada Revenue Agency should undertake additional efforts to ensure that the Disability Tax Credit form is informative, accessible and user-friendly.
Prior to advancing in the legislative process, Bill C-462 should undergo a privacy assessment.
Re: Future Mandate of the Health Care Innovation Working Group (the Council of the Federation)
On behalf of the Canadian Nurses Association (CNA) and the Canadian Medical Association (CMA), I am writing in advance of the meeting of the Council of the Federation later this month regarding the future mandate of the Health Care Innovation Working Group with respect to seniors care.
The CNA and CMA welcomed the Council of the Federation's prioritization of seniors care as an area of focus of the Health Care Innovation Working Group. Already, seniors and their families in communities across Canada face significant challenges accessing social supports and health services. These challenges will only intensify as the demographic shift progresses. Based on current trends and approaches, the proportion of provincial/territorial health spending associated with seniors care is forecast to grow by over 15% to almost 62% of health budgets by 2036.
Recognizing the significant pressure this will present for health care systems and provincial/territorial budgets moving forward, it is critical that the Council of the Federation maintain its prioritization of seniors care and meeting the needs of an aging population. As such, we respectfully encourage you in your capacity as Co-Chairs of the Health Care Innovation Working Group to ensure the future mandate of the working group on seniors care be included as part of the agenda at the January 30, 2015 meeting of the Council of the Federation.
The CNA and CMA are actively engaged on this issue and welcome the opportunity to meet with each of you to discuss how we may collaborate to ensure improved health outcomes for seniors, now and in the future.
Christopher S. Simpson, MD, FRCPC, FACC, FHRS
Karima Velji, RN, PhD, CHE
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) supports the promotion of healthy lifestyles in order to improve individual health and well-being and the overall health status of the population. Healthy lifestyles refer to patterns of individual practices and personal behavioural choices that are associated with optimal health. Two of the most important behaviours to create or maintain optimum health are healthy eating and physical activity.
For many Canadians, their diet and physical activity levels can have a negative rather than positive impact on their overall health. There is a particular concern for children and youth who are growing up in increasingly obesogenic environments that reinforce practices that work against a healthy lifestyle.1 Childhood obesity research tells us that overweight and obese children are more likely to stay the same into adulthood.2 To reverse this trend, determined action is required for children and youth to learn and acquire healthy behaviours that they will maintain throughout their life. Healthy lifestyles are central to successful aging and improving the likelihood of recovery after poor health.3
This policy paper discusses the importance of physical activity and healthy eating, and the role that individuals and families, schools, workplaces, communities, the food industry and all levels of governments can play in promoting healthy lifestyles. We know that collaborative action is required to make it easier for Canadians to incorporate healthy eating and physical activity into their daily lives - to make the healthy choice the easy choice.
What are the health impacts of unhealthy diets and physical inactivity
Diet is the leading risk factor for death, disability and life-years lost; being estimated to cause over 65,000 deaths and 864,000 life years lost in Canada in 2010.4
Unhealthy diet has been consistently linked with cardiovascular diseases (heart disease, stroke, hypertension, diabetes, dyslipidemia) and some cancers,5 which constitutes the majority of the disease burden in Canada. An estimated 80% of hypertension, which affects over 7 million Canadians, is directly or indirectly attributed to unhealthy diet.6
An estimated 60% of Canadian adults and close to one-third of children are overweight or obese, largely caused by unhealthy diets.7 Overweight and obesity (and the lifestyle choices associated with them) are contributors to more than 18 chronic conditions.8 This includes diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension and liver disease, as well as breast, colon and prostate cancer.
Obesity is a public health issue not unique to Canada as the rates are increasing worldwide. Obesity is generally attributed to the fact that, as a society, we are increasing our calorie intake while at the same time burning less energy in physical activity. While it is difficult to determine how many deaths are directly attributable to obesity, we know that obesity often co-exists with other risk factors such as the lack of physical activity.
Exercise is one of the top modifiable risk factor for chronic disease.9 Regular physical activity is associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, some types of cancer, diabetes, obesity, hypertension, bone and joint diseases, and depression.10 The risk for many of these conditions is reduced by 20 - 40% in adults with the highest levels of physical activity compared to those with the lowest levels of physical activity. Recent research has shown that a sedentary lifestyle is associated with higher risk for chronic conditions such as obesity, diabetes and cancer independent of physical activity levels.11
According to the most recent Canadian Health Measures Study physical activity levels for children and youth are low with 6 out of 10 waking hours devoted to sedentary pursuits. Obesity is rising and physical fitness is declining.12
Canadians who do not achieve adequate levels of physical activity or eat unhealthy foods are vulnerable to preventable chronic diseases, premature death, and contribute to high health care costs. For instance, in 1999, $2.1 billion or 2.5% of the total direct health care costs were attributable to physical inactivity.13
To understand why the rates of obesity and overweight are rising, it may be helpful to look at what we already know about healthy eating and physical activity.
What we know about healthy eating
While modern science has allowed us to expand our knowledge of the impact of nutrients and food on human health we continue to be beset with illness and disease caused by the foods we consume. Having the right amount and type of food recommended in Canada's Food Guide is a first step towards healthy eating. But Canadians self-reported dietary intakes do not meet national dietary recommendations despite high reliance on public education concerning healthy eating and healthy diets. Children and adults are under-consuming the recommended servings of vegetables and fruits, an established proxy for healthy eating habits, and exceeding daily recommended intakes of sodium.14,15
As the links between nutrition and disease, and the impact on the health of our society are revealed it is more important than ever to understand what influences healthy eating behaviours. Food choices are structured by a variety of individual determinants of behaviour, ranging from one's physiological state, food preferences, nutritional knowledge, perceptions of healthy eating and psychological factors.
Many processed foods have become popular due to their accessibility and 'convenience factor', but these features have changed the way food and in particular these products are consumed compared to unprocessed foods: increased 'grazing', eating alone or eating while carrying out other activities such as work or driving. In addition, many calories consumed come in liquid form.16
Growth in the production and consumption of ultra-processed foods has increased drastically in the last decades in both higher and lower-income countries.17 A number of studies have shown that because less healthy foods are cheaper than healthier food, individuals from lower socioeconomic classes tend to be more dependent on unhealthy foods for nourishment.18
Other determinants for healthy eating include a wide range of contextual factors, such as the interpersonal environment created by family and peers, the physical environment, which determines food availability and accessibility, the economic environment, in which food is a commodity to be marketed for profit, and the social environment. Within the social environment, social status (income, education and gender) and cultural milieu are determinants of healthy eating that may be working "invisibly" to structure food choice.19
What we know about physical activity
Canada's Physical Activity Guidelines recommend that children and youth aged 5 to 17 get at least 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) per day; and adults get 150 minutes of physical activity per week.20 In fact, about 94% of Canadian children and youth do not meet minimum physical activity guidelines.21 Furthermore, about 85% of Canadian adults do not meet the minimum guidelines. Physical activity includes but is not limited to sports and recreation. Using active transportation to get to work as well as being active at work is an alternative form of MVPA and can also lead to improved health.
For most Canadians, the average day is spent on passive activities such as TV viewing, computer and game-console use, workplace sitting, and time spent in automobiles. Moreover, the sprawling suburban communities, in which many live, do not encourage physical activity.
Emerging research suggests that prolonged sitting time is associated with an increased health risk.22 These findings mean that one can meet the minimum physical activity guidelines and still not engage in a healthy lifestyle. Spending a few hours a week at the gym or otherwise engaged in moderate or vigorous activity doesn't seem to significantly offset the risk. Hence too much sitting is a risk distinct from too little exercise.
While further research is required to identify which methods of exercise promotions work best for individuals,23 it is clear that supportive environments and infrastructures are essential for Canadians to make physical activity part of their daily lives. CMA's policies about the Built Environment and Active Transportation support the role of the environment on our physical activity patterns.
How we can promote physical activity and healthy eating
A sedentary lifestyle is a cue for physician advice.24 Physical activity is a vital sign that may require as much attention as other traditional vital signs25 - weight, blood pressure, or smoking history. Physicians are eager to initiate these conversations, especially with patients living with chronic diseases. A message must be repeated many times in order to effect a change in lifestyle. Physicians can reiterate the medical importance of physical activity and healthy eating by reinforcing this message during each office visit, and writing the recommendation on a prescription pad.26 For instance, in British Columbia, physicians are prescribing exercise on specially-designed pads, distributing free pedometers, and hosting free walking events for their patients and the public. In the Edmonton area, Primary Care Networks are prescribing free access passes or a free month of access at local municipal recreation facilities. And in Nova Scotia, physicians have been running a free provincial running program for over 10 years that benefits thousands of kids in elementary school.
Nonetheless these clinical interventions alone cannot shape healthier food consumption patterns and lifestyle choices. An obvious starting point to develop a comprehensive policy is to understand the interplay between individual and environmental determinants that influence our behaviours. In this regard, CMA has developed policies on Active Transportation and the Built Environment and Health which recognize the role of neighborhood design and alternative modes for transportation for an active lifestyle. This approach is also at the heart of the Integrated Pan-Canadian Healthy Living Strategy (PCHLS)27, approved in 2005 by all levels of government. CMA commends the efforts put in the PCHLS to prioritize healthy eating and physical activity.
What we recommend
CMA looks forward to working with others in making options for physical activity and healthy eating more available and accessible to all Canadians. The following recommendations highlight the potential contributions of the following sectors: health professionals, all levels of government, communities, workplaces, schools, the food industry and individuals and families.
CMA encourages physicians to promote healthy eating and physical activity inside and outside their office.
Physicians are lifestyle change agents and remain the preferred source of information about health for many people. Physicians, who are committed to physical activity, are role models whose advice on healthy living is more likely to be adopted.28 CMA encourages physicians to address any work-imposed limitations - such as the lack of time, motivation, or tiredness - that could also influence their own exercise and eating habits.
In clinical practice, physicians can help patients start or maintain a healthy lifestyle by:
* assessing nutrition and physical activity as part of routine assessments;
* determining the factors that influence individual patient's nutrition and physical activity levels;
* assessing patient's readiness to change and tailoring interventions and support to their current situation;
* providing an exercise prescription to encourage physical activity to maintain or improve health status, and
* working in inter-professional teams to provide patient education with other health care providers such as dieticians.
Medical students and residents, while reporting a high level of importance for exercise prescription concede a low level of expertise in this area upon graduation.29,30,31 As knowledge develops, physicians and other health professionals should be kept updated and encouraged to incorporate the most effective interventions into their practices. The CMA encourages the development of continuing medical education courses on issues related to physical activity and healthy eating.
Within the healthy living approach, there are multiple opportunities to extend the role of physicians into the community as observed in Nova Scotia, British Columbia and Edmonton area. Physicians can establish strong community norms for a healthy lifestyle by:
* establishing and reinforcing healthy food policies in hospital cafeterias or at health-related meetings and conferences
* using, facilitating and advocating for the use of active transportation in their communities
* working within the community to ensure that recreation centres and other facilities are available and patients can be referred to the services most appropriate to their needs
Federal, Provincial, and Territorial Governments
CMA calls on federal, provincial, territorial and municipal governments to commit to a long-term, well-funded Canada-wide strategy for healthy living beyond 2015.
In 2005, Canada's federal, provincial, and territorial governments endorsed a 10-year Healthy Living Strategy Framework, whose initial priorities included the promotion of healthy eating and physical activity. The national strategy addressed information and support for Canadians to help them make healthy choices; support for physicians and other health professionals in counselling patients on healthy weight and in treating existing obesity; community infrastructures that make healthy living easier; and public policies that encourage healthy eating and physical activity. The federal and provincial / territorial governments have undertaken a number of activities in the intervening years to promote physical activity and healthy eating but much remains to be done.
CMA believes that all levels of governments have a continuous obligation to provide public guidance on healthy eating and to promulgate policies, standards, regulations and legislations that support the availability and accessibility of healthy and affordable food and beverage choices.
CMA calls on governments to improve access to nutritious food at affordable prices for all Canadians.
The price of milk, fresh produce and other healthy foods can vary greatly across Canada. In many remote areas, they are often more expensive than processed, nutrition-poor foods because of high transportation costs. Governments should implement effective programs to offset the impact of transportation costs on food prices in northern and remote communities. Even in urban areas, nutritious food may be unaffordable for people on low incomes. School meal programs, social assistance rates that take into account the cost of purchasing healthy food, access to urban farmers' markets can help to ensure that all Canadians have access to healthy foods at a reasonable price.
CMA calls on governments to ban marketing of foods and beverages high in salt, sugars and trans fats to those 13 years of age and younger.
The typical Canadian child may be exposed to as many as 40,000 advertisements for food a year.32 This does not include point-of-sale promotions, such as displays of candy bars at convenience-store counters. CMA's policy on marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages to children and youth calls for a ban on marketing of foods and beverages high in salt, sugars and trans fats to those 13 years of age and younger.
CMA calls on governments to set rigorous standards for front of package food labeling and for the advertising of health claims for food.
Brand-specific advertising is a less than optimal way to provide health information to consumers, who should be encouraged to seek out objective information sources for answers to their questions about physical activity and healthy eating. To improve the quality of information received through commercial channels, the CMA recommends that health claims made for foods be strictly regulated to ensure that they are based on the best available scientific evidence and that they are accurately communicated to consumers. Food advertisements should be pre-cleared before airing in the media, and the provisions against deceptive advertising in the Food and Drug Act should be strengthened.
CMA recommends that governments at all levels invest in evidence-based research on healthy eating and physical activity and share the results of this research with all Canadians.
CMA encourages all levels of governments to continue to fund and support research for healthy lifestyles. There is a clear need to invest in research to strengthen the evidence base about physical activity and healthy eating, particularly on:
best measures for assessing overweight and obesity;
the effectiveness of weight management and treatment programs; and
the effect of policy interventions on healthy eating and physical activity on rates of obesity and obesity-related disease.
CMA encourages governments to continue to work with the food industry to improve the food environment in Canada.
The partnership and collaboration of food manufacturers is needed to help Canadians make healthier food choices. The food industry can work with governments to:
reduce the salt, sugar, saturated fat, trans fat and calorie content of processed foods and pre-prepared meals;
provide information about the calorie and nutrition content on restaurant menus;
restrict advertising and in-store promotion of high-sugar, high-salt, high-fat foods, particularly those aimed at children;
provide user-friendly consumer information about their products, including and accurate health and advertising claims;
improve the nutrition fact table to make it more user friendly and increase the amount of information for example, by identifying the amount of free sugars.
CMA calls on municipal governments to create environments that encourage healthy and active living and on federal, provincial and territorial governments to support them in this endeavour.
Communities have an important role to play to promote healthy behaviours for children, youth, and adults. They shape how many Canadians decide to live, work and play in their daily life. Through mixed-use land planning and building design, communities can create walking-friendly environments, and reduce the time people spend in cars. To achieve this, communities should consider:
developing and maintaining a community-wide network of walking and cycling paths;
zoning communities in such a way that amenities are within walking distance of homes; and
revising building codes to make stairs accessible, pleasant and safe, so that people have an alternative to taking the elevator.
Canadians are considerably more physically active in the summer than in the winter and this could have an impact on obesity trends.33 Communities could improve pathways to healthy lifestyles year-round by improving access to indoor sport and recreation facilities, especially during winter. Where possible, communities should consider partnering with schools to share the use of gymnasiums, playgrounds, fields, courts, and tracks with the public after school hours and on weekends. In doing so, communities are ensuring the best use of time and resources, but also sharing liability for the development, operation, and maintenance of the facilities.
Community food security can happen if local residents have equal access to safe, affordable and nutritious food. Communities have a role to play in advocating for healthier food options in schools and workplaces, encouraging community kitchens to teach cooking skills, and supporting local agriculture and farmers markets. This, in turn, would encourage individuals to eat more healthy foods.
CMA encourages employers to actively promote the health of their employees by providing opportunities for physical activity, and healthy food choices in cafeterias.
Prolonged, unbroken time spent sitting in front of a screen is very common in the workplace. In addition, four out of five commuters sit daily in their private vehicles to go to work.34 As Canadians spend most of their adult life at work, it is important to reduce workplace sitting. CMA encourages employers, especially in sedentary occupational groups, to increase opportunities for physical activity. For example, employers can promote healthy behaviours by:
Building on-site fitness facilities or entering into agreements with off-site fitness centres to provide programs for their employees
Providing showers, bike racks and other amenities for employees for those who want to commute to work on foot or by bike.
Healthier food options in cafeteria and vending machines can promote and encourage healthy eating by employees.
Schools, where children spend most of their time outside of home, present an excellent opportunity to instil healthy behaviours at an early age. They could, for example, provide comprehensive nutrition education, serve nutritious food in their cafeterias and promote physical activity by providing formal instruction and informal recreation time. Schools can provide the most effective and efficient way to reach not only the children themselves, but their parents, teachers, and other community members.35
CMA encourages school boards to provide at least 60 minutes of active daily physical education for all primary and secondary grades.
Only 26% of Canadian schools reported that they had implemented daily physical education classes for their students.36 There is some evidence that school-based physical activity can increase physical activity levels and reduce time spent watching television at home. 37 For instance, schools can promote physical activity through unstructured out-of-home play, structured sports, or active transportation (e.g. walking to school). Children who are physically active and spend less time watching television after school are less likely to become overweight before age 12.38
CMA recommends that schools provide access to attractive, affordable, healthy food choices, provide nutrition education, and initiate programs aimed at encouraging healthy food consumption and skills to prepare meals from scratch.
CMA calls for restrictions on the sale of high-calorie, high fats, sugars or salts foods/drinks in recreational facilities frequented by young people.
Fast food restaurants and convenience stores can be an important influence on children's eating habits and food choices.39 Children attending schools within a short distance of fast food restaurants eat fewer fruits and vegetable servings, and drink more soft drinks than others who did not have similar establishments within proximity.40 To encourage effective school-based nutrition interventions, it is therefore important to educate students about the nutrition value of foods, healthy food choices, and provide healthy canteens or cafeterias.
Individuals and families
CMA recommends that all Canadians work toward achieving and maintaining health by:
educating themselves about their dietary needs and about the caloric and nutrition content of foods; and
engaging in physical activity, with the goal of at least 60 minutes of moderate activity per day for children and youth, and 150 minutes per week for adults.
Ultimately, healthy eating and physical activity require that individuals take action to make healthy choices in their lives. To inform these choices, Canadians should be supported with appropriate resource materials with consistent information about healthy eating and physical activity. For instance, many young children do not choose what they consume; their parents buy and prepare the food for them. Research suggests that mothers and children appear to have divergent attitudes towards food and mealtimes.41 In this regard, it is important for parents to be well-informed and able to explain the tangible benefits of foods and their nutritional components to their children before they reach adulthood.
What we conclude
Healthy behaviours are easier to maintain through life if acquired in childhood and encouraged by the family. Therefore Canadian families should be supported in efforts to ensure that both children and adults eat nutritiously and exercise daily. We believe there is a role for everyone in promoting healthy behaviours - including health professionals, individuals, families, schools, workplaces, communities, the food industry and all levels of governments.
Popular approaches seek to provide individuals with information and options about healthy lifestyles choices. However, individual choice is not sufficient to ensure healthy behaviours.
Many barriers to the adoption of healthy behaviours and lifestyle choices can be met through a targeted population health approach, and evidence-based policy and regulatory controls. A comprehensive change in culture and mindset, political endorsement and multifaceted strategies are needed to promote and facilitate change to improve the dietary practices and physical activity levels of Canadians.
Summary of Recommendations
1. The Canadian Medical Association encourages physicians to promote healthy eating and physical activity inside and outside their office.
2. The Canadian Medical Association calls on federal, provincial, territorial and municipal governments to commit to a long-term, well-funded Canada-wide strategy for healthy living beyond 2015.
3. The Canadian Medical Association calls on governments to improve access to nutritious food at affordable prices for all Canadians.
4. The Canadian Medical Association calls on governments to ban marketing of foods and beverages high in salt, sugars and trans fats to those 13 years of age and younger.
5. The Canadian Medical Association calls on governments to set rigorous standards for front of package food labeling and for the advertising of health claims for food.
6. The Canadian Medical Association recommends that governments at all levels invest in evidence-based research on healthy eating and physical activity and share the results of this research with all Canadians.
7. The Canadian Medical Association encourages governments to continue to work with the food industry to improve the food environment in Canada.
8. The Canadian Medical Association calls on municipal governments to create environments that encourage healthy and active living and on federal, provincial and territorial governments to support them in this endeavour.
9. The Canadian Medical Association encourages employers to actively promote the health of their employees by providing opportunities for physical activity, and healthy food choices in cafeterias.
10. The Canadian Medical Association encourages school boards to provide at least 60 minutes of active daily physical education for all primary and secondary grades.
11. The Canadian Medical Association recommends that schools provide access to attractive, affordable, healthy food choices, provide nutrition education, and initiate programs aimed at encouraging healthy food consumption and skills to prepare meals from scratch.
12. The Canadian Medical Association calls for restrictions on the sale of high-calorie, high fats, sugars or salts foods/drinks in recreational facilities frequented by young people.
13. The Canadian Medical Association recommends that all Canadians work toward achieving and maintaining health by:
* educating themselves about their dietary needs and about the caloric and nutrition content of foods; and
* engaging in physical activity, with the goal of at least 60 minutes of moderate activity per day for children and youth, and 150 minutes per week for adults.
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2 Waters E, de Silva-Sanigorski A, Hall BJ, et al. Interventions for preventing obesity in children. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2011;(12): CD001871.
3 Shields M, Martel L. (2006). Healthy living among seniors. Ottawa: Statistics Canada; 2005. Available: www5.statcan.gc.ca/bsolc/olc-cel/olc-cel?catno=82-003-S20050009086&lang=eng (accessed 2014 Jan 20).
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13 Katzmarzyk PT, Gledhill N, Shephard RJ. The economic burden of physical inactivity in Canada CMAJ. 2000;163(11):1435-40.
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16 Monteiro CA. Nutrition and health. The issue is not food, nor nutrients, so much as processing. Public Health Nutr. 2009;12(5):729-31. DOI:10.1017/S1368980009005291.
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18 World Health Organization. Obesity the "new norm": day 1 of nutrition and NCDs conference. 2013. Available: www.euro.who.int/en/health-topics/health-policy/pages/news/news/2013/07/obesity-the-new-norm-day-1-of-nutrition-and-ncds-conference
19 Raine KD. Determinants of healthy eating in Canada: an overview and synthesis. Can J Public Health. 2005;96(Suppl 3):S8-14, s18-15.
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25 Salis R. Developing healthcare systems to support exercise: exercise as the fifth vital signs. Br J Sports Med. 2011;45(6):473-4.
26 Andersen RE, Blair SN, Cheskin LJ, et al. Encouraging patients to become more physically active: the physician's role. Ann Intern Med. 1997;127(5):395-400.
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(accessed 2013 Sep 15).
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The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) would like to thank the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology for the opportunity to provide our views on the causes and consequences of obesity in Canada, and our recommendations for a way forward.
Canada’s physicians have repeatedly expressed their concern about the increasing prevalence of obesity and overweight in this country. Over the past ten years, responding to these expressions of concern, the CMA has developed a number of policy statements, briefs to government, and discussion papers on the issue, which articulate our recommendations for addressing this serious problem. In this brief, we will focus our recommendations on two remedies that we believe should be part of the way forward: the implementation of public policy that supports Canadians in making healthy food choices; and the provision of reliable, user-friendly information to health professionals and to the public.
2) Obesity in Canada: Causes and Consequences
More than half (62%) of Canadian adults are overweight according to the 2013 Canadian Health Measures Survey. A quarter of Canadian adults can be classed as obese (BMI = 30); this is double the obesity rate in 1979.1 The rise in obesity is most pronounced among Canada’s heaviest people; since 1985, the prevalence of extreme obesity (BMI=40) rose from 0.3% to 1.6%, a more than five-fold increase.2 One in ten Canadian children is obese;3 obesity in children and youth has more than doubled since the late 1970s. Prevalence of overweight and obesity is higher among some segments of the Canadian population, particularly Aboriginal peoples and people of lower socio-economic status.
1 Statistics Canada. Body composition of adults, 2012 to 2013. Accessed at http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/82-625-x/2014001/article/14104-eng.htm. This survey used actual measurement which is considered more accurate than self-report.
2 Twells LK, Gregory DM, Reddigan J, Midodzi WK. Current and predicted prevalence of obesity in Canada: a trend analysis. CMAJ Open, March 3, 2014. Accessed at http://cmajopen.ca/content/2/1/E18.full
3 Statistics Canada. Body mass index of children and youth, 2012 to 2013. Accessed at http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/82-625-x/2014001/article/14105-eng.htm
4 Canadian Diabetes Association. http://www.diabetes.ca/diabetes-and-you/kids-teens-diabetes/children-type-2-diabetes
Obesity is of particular concern to Canada’s physicians because it increases a person’s risk of developing a number of serious health problems: high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, heart disease and stroke, type 2 diabetes, osteoarthritis, lower back pain and other musculoskeletal disorders, and many types of cancer. Type 2 diabetes, once found only in adults, is now being seen in children4. Health advocates are concerned that because of obesity, today’s generation of children will have a shorter life expectancy than their parents.
In addition to poor physical health, obese people are at greater risk than people with normal weights of suffering from mental health problems such as low self-esteem, depression and anxiety. The stigma attached to obesity is high; obese people are at high risk of being bullied, ostracized socially, and discriminated against in the workplace. Some turn to food to relieve stress or as an escape from their unhappy lives, thereby perpetuating a vicious cycle of unhealthy eating and poor mental health.5
5 Canadian Obesity Network. Obesity and mental illness: addressing a double epidemic. Accessed at http://www.obesitynetwork.ca/de.aspx?id=322
6 Public Health Agency of Canada. Obesity in Canada: Health and economic implications. Accessed at http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/hp-ps/hl-mvs/oic-oac/econo-eng.php
7 From the CMA background paper on processed food and health. Original citation: Cohen D a. Obesity and the built environment: changes in environmental cues cause energy imbalances. Int J Obes (Lond). 2008;32 Suppl 7:S137–42. doi:10.1038/ijo.2008.250.
The Public Health Agency of Canada estimates that obesity-related health conditions cost Canada $4.6 billion dollars in 2008, both in direct costs (such as hospitals and health professional services) and indirect ones (e.g. disability claims, psychological damage and lost productivity).6 Other estimates have been even higher.
The causes of obesity are multifarious and highly complex. There is no one, simple cause. In some cases human biology is responsible, because certain people have a genetic predisposition toward gaining weight. But for the most part, obesity can be attributed to environmental circumstances that contribute to Canadians consuming more calories than they burn through physical activity. These circumstances include:
. The widespread consumption of pre-packaged and processed foods. In the US it is estimated that the percentage of food spending that goes toward foods prepared away from home went up from 24% in 1966 to 42% in 2006.7 Processed foods are more likely than fresh foods to be high in trans fats, sodium, sugar and other ingredients that are risk factors for obesity-related diseases. They are available widely, in fast-food outlets, grocery stores and vending machines, and their manufacturers often promote them heavily. In addition, they are generally lower in price than fresh fruits, vegetables or meats, which may be beyond the means of many low-income Canadians.
. Change in physical activity patterns. Many adults spend their days at sedentary desk jobs, and if they engage in physical activity, they often devote specific time to it (say, an hour at the gym) rather than incorporating it into their daily lives. Where children might once have gone outdoors to play after school, today they are more likely to sit in front of a computer or television set.
The conventional wisdom about addressing obesity is that it is the individual’s responsibility to lose weight through diet and exercise, and to keep it off. However, achieving and maintaining a healthy weight is a complex process, and can be frustratingly hard to manage. For many Canadians, obesity is a lifelong condition, and the environmental conditions discussed above
discourage healthy behaviour. Despite an abundance of diet information and advice (of varying quality and accuracy), most people who lose weight eventually put it on again. Pharmaceutical weight loss drugs are available but are not always recommended because of their side effects8. More aggressive treatments such as surgery are recommended mainly for severely obese people with health complications.
8 Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care. Recommendations for prevention of weight gain and use of behavioural and pharmacologic interventions to manage overweight and obesity in adults in primary care. CMAJ 187:3 (February 17, 2015): 184-195.
3) The Way Forward
Just as obesity sparks challenges in our populations and has no single cause, so there is no single way forward that will fully address it. CMA believes that the way forward actually involves a number of separate paths moving in the same direction. Two of these paths are discussed in the following sections.
a) Implementing Public Policy That Helps Canadians Make Healthy Food Choices
Public policy can be a powerful tool to help reduce risks to public health. In the case of tobacco control, measures such as bans on tobacco advertising and on smoking in public places contributed to the decline in smoking in Canada by making it easier for individuals to choose to be smoke-free. In the same way, CMA believes the federal government should implement policies and regulations to help create a supportive environment for people wanting to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. In particular, CMA recommends that the Committee give consideration to the following measures:
i) Improving Access to healthy food
Recommendation: that the Government of Canada support community-based initiatives aimed at reducing Canadians’ barriers to accessing healthy, nutritious food.
If Canadians are to be encouraged to make healthy food choices, then healthy foods should be readily available to them at affordable prices. Unfortunately, for many Canadians, this is not the case. In some neighborhoods, often lower-income neighbourhoods, fast food outlets outnumber grocery stores. Many variety stores, restaurants, schools and workplace cafeterias offer a larger selection of processed foods than of fresh fruits, vegetables and meat.
For some Canadians, financial barriers limit their capacity to make healthy individual choices. As a rule, fresh food tends to be more expensive than processed “fast food”. The difficulty is
compounded in Canada’s remoter areas and in the North, where fresh produce must be transported from far away, and what little is available is very high priced.
Programs to improve access to healthy food exist at all levels of government. The federal Northern Food Program, designed to offset the cost of transporting fresh food to remote areas, has been in existence for several years, though it has been criticized as ineffective9. At the community level, not-for-profit and municipal agencies have collaborated on programs such as the Good Food Markets in Ottawa, which offer fresh, affordable foods in low-income areas.10
9 Woo A. “Critics slam Canada’s northern food program.” The Globe and Mail, November 4, 2014. Accessed at http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/critics-slam-canadas-northern-food-program/article21451386/
10 Canadian Public Health Association. “Ottawa Public Health partners with community Groups to Increase access to healthy foods.” Accessed at http://www.cpha.ca/en/programs/social-determinants/frontlinehealth/stories/ottawa.aspx
11 “Restricting Marketing of Unhealthy Foods and Beverages to Children and Youth in Canada” a policy paper endorsed by CMA and other health and scientific organizations.
Other measures to improve access to healthy food could include: ensuring that every Canadian is within reach of a grocery store; regulating the number and location of fast-food outlets; and increasing the availability of nutritious foods and restricting that of processed foods in workplaces, schools and recreational facilities.
ii) Controls on Marketing of Processed Foods.
Industry marketing of fast food and processed food, including beverages, is ubiquitous – in television, on the radio, on the Internet, and at point-of-purchase displays and event sponsorships. Unfortunately, many of the advertised foods are high in calories and low in nutrients. Food advertising is aimed at Canadians of all ages, but children, particularly those under the age of 13, have been found to be especially vulnerable to it. Research has shown that the advertising of food and beverages to children influences their food and beverage preferences, purchase requests and consumption patterns.11
At present, Canada relies on voluntary industry codes to govern advertising and marketing practices. However, health groups are skeptical of the effectiveness of such codes, and of manufacturers’ commitment to them. The CMA believes that for maximum efficacy, regulatory measures are required to minimize the negative effect of food marketing on health.
Recommendation: That governments ban the advertising and promotion of high-calorie, nutrient poor foods to children 13 years of age or younger.
Food advertisements often include claims as to the product’s nutrition content and health benefits. Unfortunately, such advertising may be misleading; a product labelled “lower fat” may
still have a relatively high fat content, or contain high levels of other potentially unhealthy ingredients such as sugar and sodium. In general, brand-specific advertising is a less than optimal way to provide health information to consumers. Therefore, CMA believes that the federal government should review and regulate the health claims that manufacturers can make for their products, to ensure that these claims are based on the best available scientific evidence and that they are accurately communicated to consumers.
Recommendation: that the Government of Canada set rigorous standards for the advertising of health claims for food, and strengthen provisions against deceptive advertising in the Food and Drug Act.
iii) Enhancing Nutrition Labelling
Governments at all levels, as well as health organizations, currently provide a variety of programs, educational materials and guidelines to the public. The CMA encourages these initiatives and encourages all levels of government to continue to make overweight and obesity a public health education priority.
Food labels are an important means of health education, providing guidance to shoppers at the point of purchase to help them inform their food choices. Health Canada has made important contributions to public education, through a number of programs including its “Nutrition Facts” package labels. The labels are continually being revised and updated, as research reveals new information about nutrition and about effective means of conveying health messages to the public. As part of its revision process, CMA believes that Health Canada should consider enhancing health messages on the front as well as the back of food packages.
Recommendation: that the Government of Canada implement, and set rigorous standards for, front-of-package food labelling.
The CMA encourages the federal government to build upon the current package labelling system, making labels as user-friendly as possible and helping Canadians to interpret the information they provide. Colour-coded, brief-summary labels, such as the “red-light, green-light” system used in Britain, are intended to provide consumers with an “at a glance” assessment of a food’s nutritional value. While the system has its critics, it has the benefit of being easy to notice and interpret. The CMA has also recommended that food packages and retail displays contain warnings about the health risks associated with an excessive consumption of calorie-high, nutrient poor food and beverages.
b) Information and Support for Physicians and other Health Professionals
For many patients, obesity is a lifelong condition which, like other chronic health conditions, can be managed medically but rarely fully cured. Increasingly, it is being recognized that effective obesity management requires more than short-term weight loss diets; it involves identifying and addressing both the root causes of a patient’s weight gain (physical, psychological or socio-economic) and the barriers the patient experiences in maintaining healthy weight. 12 According to the Canadian Obesity Network, primary care interventions should be evaluated not by how many pounds the patient loses but by improvements in the patient’s health and well-being.
12 Canadian Obesity Network: 5As Guiding Principles. Accessed at http://www.obesitynetwork.ca/5As_core_principles
13 “Weight loss surgeries leap in Canada, study says.” CBC News, May 22, 2014. Accessed at http://www.cbc.ca/news/health/weight-loss-surgeries-leap-in-canada-study-says-1.2651066
Physicians, working with dietitians, nurses, physiotherapists, mental health care providers and other health professionals, have an important role in providing care and support to people who are trying to maintain a healthy weight. Physicians can provide nutrition advice to patients as part of the routine medical examination. In addition, since primary care physicians are generally the patient’s first point of contact with the health care system, they often see patients at “teachable moments” when, because of an associated health condition such as diabetes, they are motivated to change unhealthy behaviours. Physicians can also provide patients with resources to help them live healthy lives. For instance, in British Columbia, physicians are prescribing exercise on specially-designed prescription pads, distributing free pedometers, and hosting free walking events for their patients and the public. In the Edmonton area, Primary Care Networks are prescribing free access passes or a free month of access at local municipal recreation facilities.
The tertiary health care sector also has an important role to play in addressing obesity, since there is a growing number of severely obese patients who are at high risk of serious health problems and may require specialized treatment, possibly bariatric surgery. According to a study by the Canadian Institute for Health Information, the number of bariatric surgeries performed in Canada has jumped four-fold since 2006-07. The study notes that though the health care system has made great strides in meeting the demand,13 access to bariatric surgery varies from one region of Canada to another. Governments have an important role to play in ensuring equitable access to bariatric surgery for patients for whom it is clinically indicated.
Recommendation: That the federal government work with provincial/territorial governments and with researchers, medical educators and others to continually develop and disseminate up-to-date, evidence-based clinical knowledge and
practice tools, to help physicians and other health professionals manage overweight and obesity in their patients.
Clinical guidelines, based on the best current scientific evidence, are available to help health professionals work with their patients to achieve and maintain healthy weights. The Canadian Obesity Network has developed a “5As of Obesity Management” program for primary care. The Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care also develops and frequently updates recommendations for primary caregivers on how to manage overweight and obesity in practice. The Task Force’s most recent recommendations were published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal early in 2015. Clinical practice guidelines should be distributed widely and continually updated, and governments could play an important role in supporting the revision and dissemination process.
Thanks to ongoing research our knowledge of the extent and causes of obesity, and the effectiveness of existing programs in addressing it, is continually growing and developing. CMA encourages an ongoing commitment to research, and believes that the Government of Canada has an important role to play in supporting it. Results of this research should be communicated to health professionals and the public as quickly and widely as possible, so that it can be rapidly incorporated into clinical practice.
Recommendation: That the federal government support, and help to disseminate, evidence-based research on obesity in Canada and on the evaluation of strategies to address it.
Obesity and overweight are serious health problems in Canada, and as such are of great concern to the country’s physicians and to the Canadian Medical Association. The causes, CMA believes, are rooted mainly in changes in our environment and their effect on our eating and physical activity habits. The consequences are extremely serious, both for individual Canadians’ health and for the sustainability of Canada’s health care system.
CMA believes that the way forward requires a number of different interventions, on many levels. These should include providing and continually updating research and practice information for health professionals; and implementing policies that support Canadians as they pursue the goal of maintaining healthy weights.
Once again, CMA commends the Senate of Canada on conducting this study. We hope it will help encourage productive and meaningful change in the way Canadians view obesity, and assist in creating a social environment that supports healthy eating and healthy weight.
My name is Dr. Isra Levy, and as a public health physician and the Chief Medical Officer and Director in the Canadian Medical Association's Office for Public Health, I am pleased to be participating in your roundtable today. With me is Mr. John Wellner, Director, Health Policy at our sister organization the Ontario Medical Association.
CEPA is, of course, a key piece of Environmental Legislation, but we at the CMA see it to be primarily about health.
Similarly, Canada's doctors see the topic of today's hearings, "Measuring CEPA's Success" in terms of the impacts on our medical practices and, more particularly, on our patients. To us the measurement of success that matters is good health in our patients. And unfortunately I must tell you that we still see the negative impacts of environmental degradation on our vulnerable patients every day.
We are pleased to participate in this review of CEPA, because for us, the measure of health benefits and health outcomes, over the short or long-term that stem from reduced exposure to environmental contaminants is an important measure of our health as a nation.
The Canadian Medical Association, first founded in 1867, currently represents more than 63,000 physicians across the country. Our mission includes advocating for the highest standard of health and care for all Canadians and we are committed to activities that will result in healthy public policy. The environment, as a determinant of health, is a major concern for the general public as well as health care providers.
And health outcomes are directly linked to the physical environment in many, many ways. We know from the crises in Walkerton, Collingwood, North Battleford and many First Nations communities, the devastating effects that contaminated water can have on individuals and families.
We know from the smog health studies undertaken by the OMA, Health Canada and others, about the public health crisis of polluted air in many parts of Canada. And it is a crisis. We are now in a position where science allows us to more clearly show the long-term, lifetime burden of morbidity caused by some of these pollutants; we now know that there are thousands more premature deaths caused by air pollution in Canada than has previously been appreciated.
We are learning that central Canada is not the only place that has a smog problem. The OMA has shown, through its Illness Costs of Air Pollution model, that it is plausible to think in terms of substantial costs to the health and pocketbooks of Canadians because of environmental risks across the country.
The CMA has developed many environmental policies that are pertinent to our CEPA discussion today.
* Prior to Canada's ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, the CMA urged the Prime Minister to commit to choosing a climate change strategy that satisfies Canada's international commitments while maximizing the clean air co-benefits and smog-reduction potential of any greenhouse gas reduction initiatives.
We realize that pollution prevention initiatives can have many health benefits and that pollution sources seldom emit contaminants in isolation. The smoke that you see, and often emissions that you can't see, represent a cocktail of potentially harmful substances.
* The CMA has committed to working with the federal Ministers of health and the Environment to develop national strategies to reduce the unacceptably high levels of persistent organic pollutants amongst the peoples of the Arctic coast.
* We have asked Environment Canada and Health Canada to initiate a review of the current Canadian one hour guideline for maximal exposure level to both indoor and outdoor NO2 and recommend that the federal Environment and Health Ministers commit their departments to improved health-based reporting by regularly updating the health effects information for pollutants of concern.
Let me return to the issue of measuring success though -
Doctors understand the concept that success from an intervention can be nuanced. In the case of disease, physicians know and accept that the benefit of treatment is not always cure of a patient. Sometimes we just reduce their symptoms, or slow their rate of decline.
But when treating the natural environment, so critical to human health, we suggest that you cannot accept a palliative solution. We must aim for cure. We urge you to commit to measures of success in terms of real improvement, rather than merely accepting slight curtailments in the "inevitable increase" of environmental contamination.
The issue of greenhouse gas reduction is one that illustrates this point. Just as slowing the progression of a disease can never be considered a cure, referring to an "inevitable increase" in emissions and attempting only to limit the growth of those emissions, cannot result in true success by any measure.
We have seen 'good news' press releases on environmental initiatives from various federal and provincial governments, but the news isn't always worthy of praise.
Although there have been some great environmental successes that Canadians should be proud of, the measure of overall success - on all contaminants of concern - has only been incremental at best.
For example, when policy makers speak about industrial emission reductions of any kind, they often refer to "emissions intensity" - the emissions per unit of production, rather than total, overall emissions. To be health-relevant, the only meaningful way to report emissions reductions is to present them as "net" values, rather than the all-to-common "gross" valuation. An emission reduction from a particular source is only health-relevant if we can guarantee that there is not a corresponding emissions increase at another source nearby, because it is the absolute exposure that an individual experiences that affects the risk of an adverse health effect.
This issue becomes especially tricky with regional pollutants like smog precursors, because you may have to take the whole air shed into account. For this reason, cross- jurisdictional pollution control initiatives are very important in Canada - and that means federal oversight. In fact, to our understanding, that is what CEPA does, it gives the federal government jurisdictional authority, and, dare I say, obligation to act to protect the health of Canadians.
To the CMA, and we believe to most Canadians, the real measure of success is a reduction in the illnesses associated with pollution. It is not just important how we measure this ultimate success, but how we measure our progress towards it.
Environmentally related illness is essentially the combined result of exposure and vulnerability.
We are vulnerable because we are human beings; each human being has different physical strengths and weaknesses. Some vulnerabilities to environmental influences are genetic, and some the results of pre-existing disease. There is not much that government can do about this part of the equation.
Our exposure, on the other hand is related to the air we breathe, water we drink and food we eat. This is where CEPA comes in. This is where your role is critical, and where the measures of success will be the most important.
Proxy measures for the health outcomes that matter must be relevant from a health perspective. Health-based success can only be measured by quantifiable reductions in the exposure levels of contaminants in our air, water and foods.
Canada has historically relied only on guidelines for contaminants of concern, memoranda of understanding with polluters and voluntary goals and targets. Our American neighbours prefer legally binding standards, strict emission monitoring, and pollution attainment designations. While there may be some benefit to the Canadian approach, we are clearly behind in this area. In many parts of the U.S., counties try desperately to avoid "non-attainment" designations based on the ambient air pollution target levels. If they are designated to be a non-attainment zone they risk loss of federal infrastructure transfer payments.
In Canada, we have Canada-Wide smog Standards for 2010 - but of course these are non-binding, have no penalties for non-attainment, provide loopholes for any jurisdictions claiming cross-border pollution influences and allow provinces to opt-out with a mere three months notice. We must be more forceful. Indeed sufficient evidence exists on the health effects of a wide-range of CEPA-Toxic substances (smog precursors, for example) to justify more forceful action to reduce exposures. And there are many more chemicals of concern, for which all the evidence may perhaps not yet be in, but which require a precautionary approach in order to prevent potential human harm.
So, although the presentation of environmental information (e.g., ambient pollution levels in a State of the Environment report, or a health-based Air Quality Index) is beneficial and may provide information that enables Canadians to reduce their exposures, ultimately this is not enough.
The CMA believes that although enhanced environmental monitoring or pollutant exposure studies are important to our understanding of some contaminants, such studies in and of themselves will not improve the health of our patients. The true measure of success would go beyond reporting the danger, to actually reducing the danger. The CMA believes that is the purpose of CEPA.
We look forward to working with you to improve CEPA and ensure that the measures of CEPA's success will benefit the health of our patients across Canada.
Canadian Medical Association Ottawa, June 12, 2006
While my remarks today will focus on the recognition of foreign credentials, mainly with reference to the medical profession with which I am most familiar, I want to emphasize that this is just one element of assuring a sustainable health workforce in Canada as my colleagues will be amplifying in greater detail.
I want to impress upon Members of the Committee that the CMA does not test, credential, license or discipline physicians, nor is it empowered to act on complaints made by patients - this is the purview of the provincial/territorial licensing bodies. We are not directly involved in provincial or territorial benefit negotiations for physicians - this is the responsibility of our provincial/territorial Divisions. Nor do we control medical school enrolment or conduct clinical research.
What we do, is carry out research and advocacy on short, medium and long term health and health care issues to ensure we can meet the current and emergent needs of Canadians.
CONTRIBUTIONS OF INTERNATIONAL MEDICAL GRADUATES TO CANADA
I would like to begin by dispelling the popular myth that Canada is a "closed shop" to persons with international medical credentials. In fact Canada has always relied on International Medical Graduates to make up a significant proportion of the medical workforce; this proportion has remained fairly steady at about one in four physicians for the past few decades.
(Currently 23%). Our best estimate is that some 400 IMGs are newly licensed to practice in Canada each year. In fact, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, has for the past two years licensed more IMGs that Ontario medical graduates.
A corollary of this myth is that IMGs are unable to access the postgraduate medical training system to complete any supplementary training they might need. In the Fall 2005, of the some 7,800 postgraduate trainees in Canada just over 900 or 12% were IMGs. Many more are participating in special assessment/supervised practice programs in the community.
The fact of the matter is that Canada has historically trained fewer physicians than we need to meet our population needs. This can be clearly demonstrated by looking at relative opportunity to enter medical school. In the most recent year (2005/2006) Canada had 7.1 first year medical school places per 100,000 population. This level is just over one-half of that of the United Kingdom, with its 12.9 places per 100,000 population. While the United States has the same ratio of medical school places per 100,000 population as Canada - it has 1.5 first year postgraduate places per medical graduate and relies on bringing large numbers of IMGs in to fill these places and supplement production in this manner.
Not only is Canadian undergraduate medical education capacity inadequate, but postgraduate medical training capacity is similarly insufficient to meet the demands of training Canadian medical graduates, providing training to IMGs, and permitting Canadians to retrain in specialties. In 2006 of the 932 IMGs registered in the second iteration run by the Canadian Resident Matching Service, just 111 or 12% were successful in obtaining a training position. There is clearly a backlog of IMGs who are eligible to receive the supplementary training they need to become eligible for licensure to practice in Canada should sufficient capacity be available.
For those who are not eligible, opportunities should be provided to achieve credentials in other health professions such as physician assistants or paramedics. A recent pilot project in Ontario was funded to allow IMGs to qualify and work as physician assistants in supervised practice settings.
Against this backdrop, it is no small wonder that Canada ranks 26th out of 29 OECD countries in the ratio of physicians per 1,000 population. For the past decade Canada's ratio has stood at 2.1 physicians per 1,000 population - one-third below the OECD average of 3.0 in 2003.
Over the years, medicine has worked hard to promote national standards for medical education and the practice of medicine in Canada.
Since 1912 the Medical Council of Canada (MCC) has been responsible for promoting a uniform standard qualification to practice medicine for all physicians across Canada. This qualification, known as the Licentiate of the Medical Council of Canada (LMCC) is obtained by being successful on a two-part Qualifying Examination.
While licensure of physicians is a provincial/territorial responsibility, there is a national standard for portable eligibility for licensure that was adopted in 1992 by the Federation of Medical Licensing (now Regulatory) Authorities of Canada (FMRAC), the Association of Canadian Medical Colleges (now Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada) (AFMC) and the MCC. The basis of this standard is that "in all provinces except Quebec the basis for licensure for most trainees will be the successful completion of the two-part Qualifying Examination of the Medical Council of Canada plus certification by either the College of Family Physicians of Canada (CFPC) or the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada (RCPSC)". A similar standard is applied by the Collège des médecine du Quèbec.
This standard also applies to IMGs, although the provincial/territorial licensing bodies have the ability to grant exemptions in particular circumstances.
SHORT, MEDIUM AND LONG TERM STRATEGY
The CMA has advocated a short, medium and longer term strategy for integrating more IMGs into the Canadian medical workforce.
In the short term the federal government should provide funding to clear the backlog of qualified physicians and other health professionals eligible to pursue supplementary training.
In the medium term the federal government needs to work with the provincial and territorial governments and key stakeholders in the development of sufficient health professional education and training opportunities to accommodate:
* Canadians who want to pursue careers as health professionals;
* Currently practising health professionals who require supplementary training or who wish to retrain;
* Internationally trained health professionals who are permanent residents and citizens of Canada who require supplementary training; and
* International trained health professionals, non-residents of Canada who wish to pursue postgraduate training as visa trainees.
In the long term Canada needs to adopt a policy commitment of increased self-sufficiency in the education and training of health professionals in Canada.
In progressing these strategies I would stress the importance of the need for the federal government to engage the national health professional associations, as this is critical in moving the agenda forward. I would cite as one success story the outcomes of the multi-partite Canadian Task Force on Licensure of International Medical Graduates, which brought together federal and provincial/territorial governments and key medical organizations.
Several initiatives are underway in follow-up to its 2004 report. An IMG database is being developed by the Canadian post-MD Education Registry of AFMC, sponsored by the federal government's Foreign Credential Recognition Program. The Physician Credentials Registry of Canada (PCRC) which is being developed under the leadership of the Medical Council of Canada (MCC) and the Federation of Medical Regulatory Authorities of Canada (FMRAC) will reduce duplication and increase the efficiency of data collection by providing a centralized uniform process to obtain primary source verification of a physician's diploma and other core medical credentials. Several provinces have greatly enhanced their ability to integrate IMGs, including supervised assessment programs in the community. We look forward to seeing results from a similar task force that is underway for nursing.
CANADIAN AGENCY FOR ASSESSMENT AND RECOGNITION OF FOREIGN CREDENTIALS
In conclusion, I would like to offer some ideas for the implementation of the Canadian Agency for the Assessment and Recognition of Foreign Credentials that was included in the 2006 federal budget.
The Constitution Act 1867 clearly assigns the majority of responsibility for the delivery of health care to the provinces. On this basis, the licensure of physicians and other health professionals should continue to be a matter of provincial/territorial jurisdiction. In the case of medicine however, Canada has been well-served by the national standard for medical licensure that has been promoted by the MCC in concert with the national certification standards that are set by the RCPSC and CFPC.
Based on the foregoing, it is proposed that the broad mandate for the Canadian agency is to promote and facilitate the adoption and awareness of national standards for certification and licensure with clearly articulated procedures for the assessment of the credentials of internationally trained professionals and pathways to licensure to practice in Canada. This might include the following activities:
* promote understanding among educational institutions and professional organizations about the implications of the various international agreements that Canada is party to (e.g., NAFTA, WTO);
* promote a sharing of leading practices between different disciplines;
* facilitate international exchanges with regulatory bodies, within and between disciplines;
* develop an evaluation framework that can assess the extent to which processes for the assessment of foreign credentials are fair, accessible, coherent, transparent and rigorous;
* develop template materials that will help promote international sharing of information about career prospects in Canada for various occupations;
* fund development and pilot projects on the application of information technology solutions; and
* serve as a focal point for federal/provincial/territorial administrative requirements.
I would stress that this will only be effective if representatives from the education and regulatory authorities and the practising community are at the table.
Canadian Medical Association Ottawa, September 21, 2006