Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity to stand in the House and support this motion. More than that, I would like to congratulate the New Democratic Party, particularly the member for Winnipeg Centre, for bringing this issue to the House.
This issue is of significant importance to me in large part because of my background as a past president of the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Nova Scotia and a board member of the national Heart and Stroke Foundation. As well as congratulating my colleagues who have brought this forward, I would like to congratulate members of the Heart and Stroke Foundation, people like Mary Elizabeth Harriman and Jane Farquharson, who have done so much work both nationally and in my own province of Nova Scotia, and Sally Brown. It is also a time to honour some people who have done great work for the Heart and Stroke Foundation in Nova Scotia, people who were, like me, past presidents: Rollie Jamieson, Ross Backman, Rick Edwards, Neil Black, and many others who have done great work in bringing this motion forward.
I would like to talk a little bit about the health of Canadians in general. Not only are we concerned about the sustainability of our health care system in Canada, but emerging threats from new viruses like West Nile, SARS, and now the avian flu. They have raised questions and concerns about our capacity and readiness to respond, and prevent life threatening epidemics. Our recent experience with SARS demonstrates that only too well.
However, I want to talk about another crisis in Canada, one that captures fewer headlines, but currently kills more Canadians on a daily basis than the new and emerging communicable diseases combined. I am talking about the so-called silent epidemic of largely preventable chronic disease. Each year in Canada more than three-quarters of deaths result from four groups of chronic diseases. These disease groups, which are approaching epidemic proportions, are ones we are all familiar with: cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, certain cancers and type 2 diabetes.
I am from Atlantic Canada. It has the highest incidences of chronic disease in this country outside of our aboriginal communities. We have far too high an incidence of smoking, obesity, bad nutrition, stress, alcohol intake and all those risk factors that lead to high rates of chronic diseases. We simply have to, as a country, get serious about preventing these diseases.
I propose to give a flavour of the most recent data and trends with regard to the health of Canadians. The numbers are striking as are the costs and their implications. The total cost in Canada of illness, disability, and death from chronic diseases amounts to an estimated $80 billion annually. The cost in terms of quality of life is immeasurable. As the population ages, the incidence of chronic diseases will continue to increase unless major steps are taken.
A recent report estimated that in 1999, about $2.1 billion, or 2.5% of the total direct health care costs in Canada were attributable to physical inactivity. I have spoken in the House before about a study by the Heart and Stroke Foundation in Nova Scotia that backs it up in my own area. Some 21,000 lives were prematurely lost in 1995 because of physical inactivity.
Approximately 47% of adult Canadians aged 20 to 64 are either overweight or obese. It is reported that the prevalence of childhood overweight doubled and juvenile obesity tripled among children aged 7 to 13 between 1981 and 1996. In 1998 it was estimated that 63% of Canadians aged 12 or over were not active enough to benefit their health. More than half of children aged 5 to 17 were not active enough for optimal growth and development.
Studies tell us that over an estimated 1.7 million Canadians have diabetes. At present rates, this number is expected to grow to 3 million by the year 2010. Aboriginal peoples are particularly at risk. Prior to 1940, diabetes was virtually unknown in the aboriginal population, but in recent years rates have escalated to 15%. By 2015, a quarter of our aboriginal peoples will have diabetes. These disturbing numbers and the trends in both non-communicable and communicable diseases should concern all of us. A call has been sounded for a serious response from all levels of government.
The federal government has responded to this by establishing the Public Health Agency of Canada. The creation of the agency marks the beginning of a new approach to federal leadership and collaboration with provinces and territories on efforts to renew the public health system in Canada.
What is important to realize, and that I would like to highlight here, is that public health addresses both infectious and chronic diseases. Public health is about the promotion of good health, the prevention and control of disease, and the protection from existing and emerging health threats. We are not standing still on these issues.
The federal, provincial and territorial ministers of health announced in September 2002 their agreement to work together on a new initiative, the development of an integrated pan-Canadian healthy living strategy. The strategy will initially emphasize physical activity and healthy eating and their relationship to health and weight.
The aim of the healthy living strategy is to promote the health status and health outcomes of Canadians, reduce health disparities, and reduce the risk factors associated with type 2 diabetes, cancers and respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.
Federal, provincial and territorial health ministers directed officials to develop a strategy along with stakeholders. To this end, a thorough consultation process was undertaken with stakeholders from across Canada, including representatives from all levels of government, non-governmental and voluntary organizations, the private sector and aboriginal peoples.
At the September 2003 meeting of federal, provincial and territorial health ministers, a framework was endorsed, along with a series of recommended actions in the areas of partnerships, research, surveillance and best practices, community funding models, communications and health information, and further dialogue with aboriginal communities.
Federal officials, along with their provincial and territorial counterparts, are currently taking steps to develop and build on these ideas. For the average Canadian, what this means is that programs and initiatives will be put in place and tools provided for the public to make informed decisions and choices.
Having said this, let me say that the solution to preventing chronic disease is not simply a matter of individual responsibility or a matter for the health sector to address on its own. It is critically important that we all share responsibility for changing the conditions that influence health status and that have contributed to the rise of chronic disease.
We know that a number of key sectors strongly influence the environments that support healthy eating and physical activity. Education, transportation, recreation and sport, food and agriculture, environment, infrastructure, business and industry and all levels of government have a role to play in improving outcomes.
In response to direction from the FPT ministers of health, the Intersectoral Healthy Living Network has been established through a coordinating committee, bringing together representatives from governments, private and voluntary sectors, issue and population groups and others. The coordinating committee is an innovative and collaborative model currently developing global targets and indicators to guide the work of the network, establish an integrated research and surveillance agenda, and develop business plans for national public information and community relevant funding.
Complementing the work of the healthy living coordinating committee, the federal government has taken additional steps. A federal social marketing campaign is set for spring 2005, along with Sport Canada and INAC, which will focus on women and children.
In collaboration with other ministries of health and education, work is under way to establish the joint consortium on school health. An international symposium on school health was held in early November.
Combined physical activity and healthy eating guides are in the final stages of development. There is support for the physical activity benchmark program in collaboration with sport bodies and the provincial ministries.
The coordinating committee of the healthy living network has been asked to present a comprehensive pan-Canadian healthy living business plan to the federal provincial and territorial ministers of health in September 2005.
The Government of Canada has also been an active player on the international front. The World Health Organization has adopted a broad-ranging approach and has developed a global strategy on diet, physical activity and health, which was endorsed by the May 2004 World Health Assembly.
I would like to speak a little bit about the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, which have enabled non-profit organizations like the Heart and Stroke Foundation and other partners to do studies not only on biomedical and clinical research but on population health and health systems, so we can make a real attempt to keep people healthy rather than just treat them when they are sick.
I want to say something else. I do not believe we have done enough as a government or as a nation. I believe, and I have stated it in the House and in the health committee, that we need a complete, integrated national wellness strategy that recognizes the need for healthy living, rewards behaviours that lead to good health and provides an environment in our schools, in our communities and businesses that recognizes the need for healthy living.
I have a high school in my area, Dartmouth High School, that this year took the coke and the potato chips out of the school and replaced them with water and healthy snacks. The sad fact about it is that the school loses money, which is discretionary money for the school. That school did the right thing and it should not be penalized for making healthy choices for its students.
We need to recognize that much unhealthy living is the result of poverty. Government has a role to play in education, promotion, construction of required facilities, literacy programs, nutrition programs and affordable housing. They all play a role in the health of Canadians.
It is crucial that we continue to support this work at home as well as through our international relationships. The health and well-being of Canadians is the cornerstone of a healthy and productive society and economy. We cannot afford to be sidelined by the health threats that loom on the horizon.
Population health action, promotion, prevention and protection are urgently needed. I believe that this motion today is a step in that direction. It is one of the important steps we can take to safeguard the health of Canadians.