HEALTH MATTERS

Be it resolved

Let's create a healthier Manitoba

Group of people.

BY DR. MICHAEL ROUTLEDGE
Winnipeg Health Region
Wave, January / February 2017

As we enter the first weeks of 2017, I’m sure many Manitobans are already busy implementing an assortment of New Year’s resolutions designed to improve their health and well-being.

That’s all to the good.

But as useful as those commitments to self-improvement may be, I’d also like to invite Manitobans to think about adopting a different kind of resolution this year – one that may ultimately be more effective in enhancing our health, and protecting our health-care system, too.

First, some background.

As most people know, there is a high demand for health-care services in this province, one that is placing a significant strain on the provincial budget. So the question becomes, is it possible to improve people’s health without breaking the bank?

Fortunately, the answer is yes. In fact, the evidence suggests that our health is influenced more by what happens outside the health-care system than within it. For example, it is estimated that the health-care system contributes about 25 per cent of the influence on our overall health, while the conditions and environments we live in contribute more than 50 per cent.

This suggests that rather than looking to the health-care system to cure us of all our ills, we should be investing more in public health strategies that promote health and well-being and reduce our need to use the health-care system in the first place.

There are, of course, many ways in which this can be done. Addressing poverty is one example.

Poverty has been cited as the most important factor in determining a person’s health status. In Manitoba, the 2016 Child and Family Poverty Report Card found that Manitoba had the highest child poverty rate in Canada, at 29 per cent. Twenty-nine per cent! That’s 85,000 children.

Poverty is clearly not a problem that is easily solved, but there are steps we can take. The story on the provincial Healthy Baby Program on page 12 of this issue provides one example. The program works in part by providing a prenatal financial supplement to families with low incomes. This helps them meet their nutritional needs, which in turn improves early childhood development – a critical factor in developing lifelong wellness and success, and preventing long-term chronic disease, with a focus on families facing the greatest challenges.

Another innovative example of how the effects of poverty can be offset involves efforts to help those in need fill out their income tax return. The CBC recently quoted a finding in an article co-written by Dr. Gary Bloch, a family physician from Toronto who has become a national champion in addressing the impacts of poverty on health, that the efforts of Community Financial Counselling Services (CFCS) led to 9,000 low-income individuals in Winnipeg being able to access $21 million dollars in social benefits by completing their tax returns. (You can read the story at www.cbc.ca/ news/canada/manitoba/low-income-taxreturns-canada-1.3728546.)

This type of initiative has enormous potential to improve population health and wellness by improving the quality of life and resilience of Manitobans who typically have the poorest health. And a healthier population overall can lead to fewer people in hospital with heart disease, diabetes and other ailments.

How does all this fit with your New Year’s resolution? Simple. To maximize the health and well-being of Manitobans, and improve health-care system efficiency, we need to create the conditions that make it easier for us to have good health and less need to use the health-care system. This can be done in part by coming up with innovative ways to address poverty, build stronger communities, support families, and expand opportunities for education.

These are not easy things to do, I know. But the improvements we make in these areas now will pave the way for a healthier population down the road. 

And so, as we embark on 2017, I’d like to invite all Manitobans to begin thinking about the things we can do to help make our province a healthier place, one where everyone is able to maximize their ability to have happy, healthy and fulfilling lives.  That’s a New Year’s resolution we should all be able to get behind.

Dr. Michael Routledge is Medical Officer of Health for Southern Health-Santé Sud. He previously served as Manitoba’s Chief Provincial Public Health Officer.

Wave: January / February, 2017

About Wave

Wave is published six times a year by the Winnipeg Health Region in cooperation with the Winnipeg Free Press. It is available at newsstands, hospitals and clinics throughout Winnipeg, as well as McNally Robinson Books.

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