improving the health of nova scotians, op-ed

For the first time, the Nova Scotia Department of Health and Wellness has published a snapshot of our province’s health and how we compare to Canadians.

The profile is intended to provide a picture of the overall health of Nova Scotians and key factors that determine our collective well-being. The report highlights that Nova Scotia has high rates of chronic disease and their risk factors (e.g., binge drinking, inactivity, unhealthy eating), and that poor health and associated risk factors are closely related to income levels.

All of this is well known and so, like the One Nova Scotia report, the Nova Scotia health profile requires us to all think and act differently. The report’s aim is to stimulate discussion about our health, and not just health care, in communities, homes and workplaces across the province.

Historically, major improvements in our collective health have come through a focus on creating the right environments and conditions for health. During the late 1800s to early 1900s, before the onset of antibiotics and modern vaccines, epidemics of infectious disease were greatly reduced through improving housing and working conditions, and providing clean water and sewage and waste disposal. More recently, significant progress has been made in reducing smoking rates and tobacco-related illness and death through a range of policy interventions that created physical, social and cultural environments that made non-smoking the cultural norm.

It is critical that appropriate attention is given to the prevention of disease and injury, along with the provision of high-quality health care. We have to understand and act on the root causes of poor health if we want Nova Scotia to be an economically successful province.

A strong focus on prevention is fundamental to sustaining Canada’s publicly funded health-care system. The basic premise of investing in prevention is that, in many cases, it is less costly to prevent the onset of disease/disability from occurring than to treat it. Helping people and communities to be healthier decreases health-care utilization thereby allowing a re-focusing of existing health-care resources and improving care for those who need care. Through cost avoidance, we can direct investment in innovative care models and new diagnostic/therapeutic approaches within existing financial resources.

The cost avoidance from prevention is even greater when the broader economic and social costs of disease/disability are also considered. A healthier population can contribute to economic growth through improvements in labour productivity and supply, and decreased business costs for medical and disability plans.

In short, creating a greater focus on health, and not just health care, is a necessary part of creating economic sustainability, the aim of One Nova Scotia. Creating healthier communities is a role shared across society. I encourage individuals, families, communities and community organizations, businesses and corporations, public institutions and all levels of government to read the Nova Scotia health profile and ask, what role each of us can play in improving the health of Nova Scotians?

As a first step, each of us could look for opportunities to become more active, eat healthier foods and decrease our use of alcohol and tobacco, along with finding ways to support our family and friends to do the same

The report is available at http://novascotia.ca/dhw/publichealth/population-health-profile.asp .

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