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The children most likely to suffer risk factors for chronic disease are also the ones who come from families on the lowest rungs of P.E.I.’s social ladder, a group of more than 50 Islanders heard Tuesday.
Chief Health Officer Dr. Heather Morrison detailed some of the links between the well-being of P.E.I. children and family affluence from her 2017 P.E.I. Children’s Report during a public forum at Murphy’s Community Centre.
Overall, the data showed that Island children who belong to families with the least affluence were more likely to have risk factors related to chronic illness. They were more likely to be obese, have less physical activity and eat fewer fruits and vegetables, along with a number of other risks.
“All these indicators really serve as a baseline. A children’s report had never been done before in P.E.I., so now we have a baseline and we need to look at where we go from here,” said Morrison. “If we can do a good job in terms of the health of our children, we will also have healthier adults and a healthier Island population.”
The forum on income and children’s health was hosted by the P.E.I. Working Group for a Livable Income in partnership with the Public Health Association of N.B. and P.E.I.
The evening also saw roundtable discussions on how to address the issue.
For most at the meeting, the best solution was a basic income guarantee.
Michelle Jay, a member of the working group, said the group has been trying to partner with the provincial and federal government for a basic income guarantee pilot.
“We know children don’t exist in a vacuum and that children belong to families that are poor, and by no fault of their own either,” said Jay. “(The basic income guarantee) is about sharing the resources we have. It’s about ensuring no one is below a certain level .… It’s really not as complicated and expensive, I think, as it’s been made out to be.”
Morrison noted that many of the figures in the children’s report also mirrored information collected on P.E.I. adults in her 2016 report, which was the first time the distribution of social determinants was linked to health and equity.
“Some of this information is intuitive and shouldn’t surprise us, but it’s the first time we’ve measured it here in P.E.I. ... (and what we saw with children) mirrored a lot of what we saw with our adults,” said Morrison. “If we’re going to have a chance of changing the results, we need to address it in our children.”
Lower income adults in P.E.I. also have higher rates of heart disease, hypertension, diabetes and other chronic conditions when compared to the rest of Canada.
Morrison said it was important to address modifiable risk factors that influence almost 75 per cent of those chronic diseases, such as poor diet, lack of physical activity, tobacco and excessive alcohol use, to keep the health-care delivery system sustainable.
She said it would ultimately need to involve collaboration of the government, communities, partner groups and individuals.
“It’s about making the healthy choice the easy choice,” said Morrison. “If we want to change the tide of chronic disease in this province, the only thing we can really do is change those modifiable risk factors. Then we may have a chance to make a difference …. It’s not something that is going to happen overnight.”