THUNDER BAY – There is a growing gap in our society between the rich and poor, and it is impacting the health of Canadians. The Canadian Medical Association’s newly-released report card on the Canadian health care system has revealed that the economic downturn continues to be a consistent factor in terms of the amount of time, energy, and money Canadians spend on sustaining their health. One-quarter (26%) ‘agree’ (9% strongly/17% somewhat) that ‘as a result of the economic downturn I have spent less time, energy and money sustaining my health’, compared to 23% who ‘agreed’ in 2009.
Income level is a significant factor in this regard. Of those with household incomes of less than $30,000 a year, nearly half (46%) ‘agree’ (17% strongly/29% somewhat) that as a result of the economic downturn they have spent less time, energy and money sustaining their health, a stark difference compared to nineteen percent among those earning $60,000 or more a year (7% strongly /12% somewhat). Education also plays a significant role. Those with a high school education or less are nearly twice as likely as those with a university education to have spent less time, energy, and money sustaining their health as a result of the economic downturn (35% agree – 10% strongly, 25% somewhat vs. 19% agree – 7% strongly, 12% somewhat among those with a university education).
In terms of region, residents of Quebec are most likely to report having spent less time, energy, and money sustaining their health as a result of the economic downturn (32% agree – 12% strongly/20% somewhat), while those in Saskatchewan/Manitoba (13% agree – 7% strongly/6% somewhat), Alberta (19% agree – 5% strongly/14% somewhat), and the North (20% agree – 5% strongly/15% somewhat) are the least likely to have done so.
This gap between those with lower and higher levels of income has widened on a number of key health measures compared to 2009.
When it comes to describing one’s health as ‘excellent’ or ‘very good’ the gap between those earning less than $30,000 a year (39%) and those earning $60,000 or more (68%) has increased by 12 percentage points compared to 2009 ( a 29 vs. 17 percentage point gap in 2009).
In 2009, lower and higher-income Canadians were the same in terms of whether they accessed health care services within the past month. This year, the gap between the two groups has increased significantly (to 16 percentage points), with six in ten (59%) Canadians who earn less than $30,000 a year having accessed health care services within the past month, compared to only four in ten (43%) among those earning $60,000 or more.
While 2009 showed no difference between lower and higher income Canadians in terms of perceptions that they are ‘very/somewhat overweight’, and showed only a four percentage point gap in terms of having ‘very/somewhat overweight children’, this year, four in ten (38%) Canadians earning less than $30,000 a year say they are ‘very/somewhat overweight’ compared to 32 percent among those earning $60,000 a year or more (amounting to a six-point gap compared to 2009). In terms of having overweight children, this year, the gap between lower and higher income Canadians has also increased (13 vs. 5 percentage point gap in 2009).
Another area in which the gap has increased significantly is delaying or stopping the purchase of prescription drugs. This year, one quarter (24%) of Canadians earning less than $30,000 a year say they delayed or stopped buying prescription drugs, compared to only 3% of those earning $60,000 or more, resulting in a much higher gap compared to 2009 (21 vs. 13 percentage points in 2009).
While the income gap persists on many health measures, with lower income Canadians experiencing higher negative health impacts as a result of the economic downturn, the level of disparity in some areas has held steady compared with 2009. For example, the gap between lower and higher income Canadians has generally remained the same in terms of each of the following: feeling stressed or overwhelmed (a 16 vs. 17 percentage point gap in 2009), sleeping less than normal (10 vs. 11 in 2009), and skipping meals (19 vs. 17).