Addressing high rates of chronic disease in Hastings Prince Edward

According to the Chronic Disease Prevention Alliance of Canada, the four most prevalent chronic diseases in Canada are cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and chronic respiratory diseases. According to statistics, it appears that Hastings Prince Edward (HPE) residents have high rates of these diseases compared to Ontario.

It is estimated that 40 percent of cancers and 80 percent of type 2 diabetes and respiratory disease are preventable by eliminating four risk factors: poor nutrition; lack of physical activity; smoking; and harmful use of alcohol.

While it is encouraging that chronic disease may be prevented, residents in this region engage in more of these high risk behaviours than the provincial average. For example: 40% of HPE residents did not meet Canada’s Food Guide recommendations for vegetables and fruit consumption; 68% are overweight or obese compared 61% of Ontarians; 28% are smokers compared to 19% provincially; and 44% of HPE adults exceeded the Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines.

“Year after year trends are improving in a number of chronic diseases and the behaviours that may contribute to them,” said Dr. Piotr Oglaza, Acting Medical Officer of Health at Hastings Prince Edward Public Health. “However, we are still above provincial rates in some measures. For example, fewer people are smoking but we still have a higher percentage of smokers than other parts of Ontario.

“We need to use this data carefully and we must be careful not to put blame on individuals for their choices because there are many layers to these complex issues,” says Dr. Oglaza. “Health promotion is the process of enabling people to increase control over, and to improve, their health. It moves beyond a focus on individual behaviour towards a wide range of social and environmental interventions.”

Many places in HPE are physically isolated, and as a result many people commute by car. People traveling by car are not profiting from the health benefits associated with biking or walking, and are at a higher risk of cardiovascular disease. Isolation also influences nutrition and access to food. In a large rural population some residents may not be able to get to a grocery store to buy fresh food on a regular basis. You must also factor in the rising cost of nutritious food in an area where many people live in low income households.

Income is one of the best predictors of health. Studies show that when money is tight, healthy food is one of the first things to be cut in order to pay rent and other bills. HPE experiences slightly higher rates of low income households (14.8%) compared to Ontario (13.9%). Even when working, factors like part-time employment, lack of benefits, and lack of job security can make it hard for people to afford healthy food.

“How much choice do people have if they cannot easily access a grocery store or cannot afford nutritious food?” asks Dr. Oglaza. “Health promotion is complex and demands coordinated action by governments, health and other social and economic sectors, non-government and voluntary organizations, industry and the media.”

Health is a responsibility and each of us has a role to play in improving the health of our community. Individuals can also take action by learning, supporting and advocating for change.

  1. Learn about the root causes of food insecurity and its impact on health or join and participate in a local food security or poverty reduction network.
  2. Support local farmers and vendors and/or donate time, food or money to local food initiatives such as the good food box, community gardens, community food centres, and meal programs.
  3. Advocate for a national food policy that ensures equal access to safe and nutritious food for all Canadians. Write to your local, provincial, and federal government about equitable wages, social assistance rates, annual guaranteed income and affordable housing.

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