Income-related gap in Canadians' health is growing, survey suggests
TORONTO -- The health gap between low-income Canadians and those with higher salaries is growing larger, a Canadian Medical Association report suggests.
A survey conducted for the association by Ipsos Reid found that 68 per cent of people with salaries of $60,000 or more reported that their health is excellent or very good, compared with only 39 per cent of people who earn less than $30,000 reporting the same.
That’s a gap of 29 percentage points, but the CMA is sounding the alarm about how much greater that disparity has become since a 2009 survey, when the difference was 17.
“Things are getting worse, not better,” CMA president Dr. John Haggie said from Yellowknife, where the association is holding its annual meeting.
The pattern is seen across several health indicators. People in the higher income bracket reported fewer overweight children, smoking less, eating more vegetables, sleeping more and exercising more.
The key to reversing the troubling trend lies in all areas of social policy, Haggie suggested.
“I think there’s an opportunity here to say, ‘Well, these are issues that are impacting Canadians’ health. They aren’t specifically necessarily pure health care delivery issues,”’ he said.
“Perhaps (we could) adopt as a country a point of view of using a health impact analysis or health impact assessment for any social policy proposal and say, ‘Well, is this going to make things better?”’
In 2009 there was no difference between how many higher- and lower-income Canadians reported using health services in the past month.
But this year 59 per cent of lower-income respondents said they had last accessed health care less than a month ago -- 16 percentage points more than people in the higher-income bracket.
Despite the marked disparity between the self-reported health of people in the different socioeconomic groups, the survey respondents didn’t see those factors as being very important determinants of health.
When asked to rate what factors have the most impact on a person’s health, the top three responses were tobacco use, access to health care and diet and nutrition.
Employment status, education level and income level are far down the list, with just about a quarter of the people surveyed ranking those factors as having a “great impact.”
Haggie said he hopes the results of the survey will spur governments to incorporate health into all facets of planning.
“You need to look at social policy with that lens when you’re writing it rather than find out afterwards about unintended consequences,” he said.
“Social policy in general nearly always has some kind of impact on health and at the moment those impacts have been left to chance.”
Ipsos polled 1,200 Canadians between July 25 and 30 and in a telephone survey with a margin of error of plus or minus 2.8 percentage points.