Tuesday May 8 1:51 PM ET
Survey Shows Canadians Living Longer, Getting Fatter
By Janet Guttsman
TORONTO (Reuters) - Canadian life expectancy is rising in line with that in other countries, but kids are getting fatter and nurses fall sick too much, according to an annual survey of the largely state-funded healthcare system.
The fact-packed 87-page report, released on Tuesday, also said Canada compared well with other industrialized countries in terms of survival rates from transplant surgery.
Per capital health care expenditure was below that in countries such as Germany and the United States and government picked up some 70 percent of the overall health care bill.
``We see life expectancy continuing to increase in Canada -- we have seen a six-year gain since the 1970s,'' said Michael Decter, of the Canadian Institute for Health Information, the nonprofit organization that wrote the report.
``We are keeping up with the competition, and we have seen substantial gains not just in how we live, but in the quality of life.''
The report put Canadian life expectancy at 79 years from birth, above France and the United States, but below Japan's 80 years. ``Canada has been near the top of international life expectancy ratings for seven decades,'' it said.
But Health Minister Alan Rock said the report card was not yet good enough for Canada, which is proud of its universal medicare system and shuns the idea of a U.S.-style system with Rolls-Royce treatment for those with full insurance cover but large gaps for those who cannot afford to pay.
``We are not doing a good enough job, and we have not met our targets,'' Rock told a news conference launching the report. ''Health care is going to have to redouble its efforts, look for more money and hire more analysts.''
The report was the second annual survey of medical services across Canada, the world's second-largest country by area. It found disparities in treatment and life expectancy in different parts of Canada and fretted that too many major operations were taking place in hospitals with relatively little experience.
``We have too many centers undertaking complex procedures such as heart surgery,'' said Decter. ``The result may be unnecessary complications and unnecessary deaths.''
Decter also expressed concern about rising child obesity, something that can cause problems such as diabetes later in life. Some 29 percent of Canadian boys and 23 percent of girls were overweight in 1996, according to recently released data, up from 15 percent for boys and girls in 1984.
Nurses fell ill more often than workers in supposedly high-risk shift-work occupations, police or fire services, for instance, taking some three weeks a year off sick. Many nurses complain of low pay levels and low morale, although evidence of a major nursing shortage in the future was not conclusive.
The report also highlighted high rates of in-house health care, where family members act as care givers to an elderly relative or someone with disabilities.
A quarter of seniors in a recent survey said their children provided support when they fell ill and a survey in the western province of Alberta showed that one in three respondents had helped a sick family member in the last six months.
``If one in four adults is providing home care...a burden is falling on families,'' Rock said, stressing the need to make at-home health care services more readily available.