Overall health of Islanders decreasing: chief public health officer

Change activities like drinking, smoking, eating poorly to reduce risk of developing problems later in life, says Dr. Heather Morrison

Teresa Wright twright@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on June 27, 2014

Dr. Heather Morrison says Islanders need to get active, eat healthier to reduce risks of chronic disease

Prince Edward Islanders are less active, more overweight, drink more alcohol and are more likely to suffer from chronic conditions than the rest of the country.

These are some of the findings highlighted in the 2014 health trends report from P.E.I.’s chief health officer.

This is the second report of its kind, and although it has been two years since the last one was conducted, the overall health of Islanders has not improved.

In fact, it has gotten worse.

“We’ve seen unfortunately a decrease in overall general health of Islanders in the two years since our first report,” said Dr. Carolyn Sanford, who was among those who compiled the data in the report.

P.E.I.’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Heather Morrison said her biggest concerns centre around the obesity and inactivity levels of Islanders.

Sixty per cent of Islanders over the age of 18 are overweight or obese, according to the data compiled from the 2011-12 Canadian Community Health Survey.

Less than a third of Islanders consume the recommended five or more fruits and vegetables per day. A quarter of the population says they are heavy drinkers. Half of all Islanders are inactive.

As a result, more Islanders are developing chronic health conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, asthma and cancer.

The report further shows that in P.E.I., there is a steeper rise in these chronic conditions among those in the younger 35 to 45 age demographic compared to the rest of the country.

Morrison said the report also examined the social determinants of health. This data included for the first time this year indicates those with less education and with lower incomes are more likely to report these kinds of poor health indicators.

She pointed to the fact the Island has a lower median household income than the rest of the country as a factor in why Islanders are scoring worse than their Canadian counterparts in so many areas of their health.

“We think that can affect your health status and your ability to make sure that you eat enough fruits and vegetables and get enough activity.”

Childhood obesity levels also appear to be increasing faster in P.E.I. than the Canadian rate. One in five children in P.E.I. are overweight and another eight per cent are obese.

A large section of the report also focuses on P.E.I.’s aging population.

The number of seniors in P.E.I. is projected to dramatically increase in the coming years. By the year 2020, 20 per cent of Islanders will be over 65 years of age. By 2040 this will increase to one in three Islanders.

The report looked at aging and frailty and how these factors affect health outcomes.

In total, 43 per cent of P.E.I. seniors reported feeling frail – a state of vulnerability that can lead to poor health.

Although this number is high, the report indicates it is not surprising given the prevalence of chronic conditions and risk factors in P.E.I.’s population.

That’s why Morrison says she hopes Islanders will take note of these unfavourable statistics and start making better choices.

People can’t change their age, but they can change activities like drinking, smoking and eating poorly in order to reduce their risks of developing problems later in life, she said.

“Part of aging well is that we are more active and staying active, if at all possible. And that will help some of that chronic disease levels.”

Health Minister Doug Currie says the province is investing in initiatives like ‘Go P.E.I.’ to encourage more people to get active and adopt more healthy lifestyles.

But in the end, it’s up to each individual Islander to make healthier choices.

“What we’re really talking about here is people taking responsibility, people being aware, looking at initiatives and programs,” Currie said.

“This information is the cold hard truth about what we’re currently dealing with and what we’re facing, but it also gives us an opportunity to make strategic policy and investment to support programs.”