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Tuesday, June 15, 2004
Canadian Community Health Survey2003
More than 1.2 million Canadians were unable to find a regular doctor in 2003, and more than twice as many didn't have one because they hadn't looked for one, according to new results from the Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS).
The results are part of a comprehensive survey of more than 135,000 Canadians conducted between January and December 2003.
Eighty-six percent of Canadians reported that they had a regular medical doctor in 2003. This proportion was virtually unchanged from 1994, when the National Population Health Survey examined the same issue.
However, for the first time, the CCHS asked those who did not have a regular medical doctor to report why not. About 5% of Canadians, an estimated 1.2 million people, could not find a regular doctor; an additional 9%, or about 2.4 million, had not looked for one.
The survey also asked a variety of questions on health issues, ranging from smoking habits to obesity and self-perceived health. For the first time in a Statistics Canada survey, information on sexual orientation was also collected to improve the understanding of health issues specific to the homosexual and bisexual populations. The goal was to provide a statistical snapshot of the health of Canadians at the national, provincial and sub-provincial health-region level.
Data showed, for example, that smoking has decreased substantially during the past 10 years, and that the decline was particularly dramatic among teenagers and young adults. Also, obesity rates were highest among men and those aged 45 to 64. In addition, fewer individuals considered their health to be excellent or very good compared with 10 years ago.
Another goal of the survey was to produce health information for 126 health regions in Canada. These areas are defined by the provinces and generally represent districts of responsibility for regional health boards.
Finding a regular medical doctor not just a rural issue
People living in rural Canada were slightly more likely than those in urban areas to have difficulty finding a regular medical doctor in 2003, according to CCHS data. About 5.5% of individuals in rural areas had difficulty, compared with 4.5% in urban areas. This may reflect differences in the delivery of primary care in rural areas, including, for example, the use of nurse practitioners.
The inability to find a regular doctor is not just a rural issue, however. Of the 1.2 million people who reported that they were unable to find a doctor in 2003, only about 273,000 lived in a rural area. An estimated 965,000 lived in urban Canada.
CCHS data suggest that the inability of certain individuals to find a regular doctor may have implications for the health care system. When these people do succeed in contacting a doctor, the odds that it will be in an emergency room are 3.5 times greater than for those who have a regular doctor.
Furthermore, women who cannot find a regular doctor are less likely to have received basic diagnostic services, such as mammograms and Pap smear tests. In the three provinces (Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and Alberta) where questions about blood pressure were asked, those who could not find a doctor were less likely to have had their blood pressure checked.
More than twice as many men as women reported that they had not looked for a regular doctor. This may reflect differences between the sexes in attitudes towards health and illness. Studies have shown that men consider it less important to have their health monitored over time.
Individuals who have not looked for a regular doctor were concentrated in the 20-to-34 age group, whereas the inability to find a doctor was less particular to the young. One possible explanation is that people who have not looked for a doctor include those who have not made it a priority, possibly because they consider themselves to be healthy and are occupied with educational pursuits or work and family responsibilities.
Smoking: Fewer Canadians puffing
Smoking has declined substantially over the past decade. In 1994, 29.3% of the Canadian population aged 12 and over smoked either daily or occasionally. By 2003, this had declined to 22.9%.
The proportion of the population that smoked daily fell significantly between 1994 and 2003, both in every age group and among both males and females. However, the proportion of the population that smoked occasionally remained unchanged at 5%.
Some of the biggest declines in daily smoking were among teenagers and young adults, the target of numerous federal, provincial and municipal anti-smoking campaigns in recent years. These declines have accelerated in the past two years. For example, 13.6% of teen girls aged 15 to 19 smoked daily in 2003, down from 18.9% in 2000/01, when the CCHS was first conducted, and 20.9% in 1994.
One-third (33.2%) of young adults aged 20 to 24 smoked either daily or occasionally in 2003, the highest rate of any age group. This proportion was slightly lower than the rate of 35.5% for this group 10 years ago, but the decrease is not statistically significant.
Obesity rates up slightly
Rates for both obesity and the state of being overweight have increased slightly during the past three years. In 2000/01, 14.1% of the adult population aged 18 and over was considered obese and 32.4% overweight.
By 2003, 14.9% of adult Canadians were considered obese and 33.3% were considered overweight. An estimated 46.7% were in the normal range, and about 2.7% were underweight.
About 15.9% of adult men were considered obese, slightly higher than the rate of 13.9% among adult women. Rates of obesity were highest in the age group 45 to 64.
The rate was below the national average in British Columbia; in Quebec, Ontario and Alberta the difference from the national average was not statistically significant. In all other provinces and territories, the rate of obesity was above the national average.
Among adult women, 4.1% reported being underweight, nearly four times the proportion of adult men (1.2%). Being underweight is considered to harbour the same health risks as being overweight.
As noted in the Joint Canada–US Survey of Health, released June 2, 2004 in The Daily, obesity rates are higher in the United States than in Canada, especially among women.
These data are based on the body mass index (BMI), an internationally accepted standard for assessing the health risks associated with being underweight, overweight and obese. The BMI is calculated by dividing weight in kilograms by height in meters squared. For example, a 37-year-old man who was 1.8 metres tall and who weighed 98 kg would have a BMI of 30.3, and would be considered obese.
The current cycle of CCHS based its findings on height and weight measurements that respondents themselves reported. Studies have shown that both men and women who respond to health surveys tend to underestimate their weight and overestimate their height. This can lead to potentially substantial underestimates of obesity and overweight.
In the autumn of 2005, Statistics Canada will release the results of CCHS Cycle 2.2 on nutrition, which for the first time will include estimates of BMI based on direct measures of height and weight.
Self-perceived health: Fewer consider their health excellent
Fewer Canadians apparently feel that they are in excellent health. In 2003, 58.4% of individuals aged 12 and older reported that they were in excellent or very good health. This was down from 63.1% in 1994.
A further 30.2% reported being in good health in 2003, and 11.3% considered their health to be fair or poor.
Younger people were more likely than the elderly to report being in excellent or very good health. Even among seniors aged 65 and older, however, more considered their health to be excellent or very good (36.6%) than considered it to be fair or poor (26.6%).
In addition, in every age group more men than women considered themselves to be in excellent or very good health.
The odds of reporting excellent or very good health were almost three times as high among people who said they were satisfied in general with their life than among individuals who said they were not. These results were valid even when the influence of other factors such as age, income, smoking and chronic health problems was taken into account.
The decline in the proportion of Canadians describing their health as excellent or very good since 1994 occurred among both men and women and in every age group. This decrease is not entirely attributable to the aging of the population.
Previous attempts to explain patterns of self-rated health have focussed on two sets of explanations: psycho-social factors, which influence how people evaluate their own health; and real changes in health status.
Some factors, such as obesity, which are thought to influence a person's perception of their health, have worsened during the past 10 years. However, other factors, such as smoking and physical activity, have improved.
Similarly, during the past two years the proportion of Canadians reporting that they found life very stressful has declined from 26.1% to 24.4%
However, between 1994 and 2003 the proportion of people who spent at least one day in bed due to an illness or injury rose from 14.3% to 17.0%. This suggests that an actual decrease in health status, rather than a change in how Canadians perceive their health, may be responsible for the decline in self-perceived health.
To facilitate comparisons among health regions, the CCHS created nine groups of regions with similar socio-demographic profiles.
For example, in one group of 14 health regions the proportion of the population which could not find a regular medical doctor ranged from a high of 6.5% in Windsor–Essex in Ontario to a low of 2.8% in the Capital Health Region in Edmonton.
The health regions in this group share characteristics such as moderately high population density, low percentage of government transfer income and rapid population growth. This suggests that factors other than these — such as the organization of primary care, the number of doctors available or the rate of retirement of doctors — may explain differences in the ability to find a regular doctor.
Similarly, within the group of "big city" health regions in and around Montréal, Toronto and Vancouver, the proportion of the population that smoked daily ranged from a high of 21.3% in Montréal to a low of 12.4% in Vancouver.
First information on sexual orientation
CCHS Cycle 2.1 is the first Statistics Canada survey to include a question on sexual orientation. This information is needed to understand differences in health-related issues between the homosexual (gay or lesbian), bisexual and heterosexual populations. These issues include determinants of health, such as physical activity, mental health issues, including stress, and problems accessing health care.
Among Canadians aged 18 to 59, 1.0% reported that they consider themselves to be homosexual and 0.7% considered themselves bisexual.
About 1.3% of men considered themselves homosexual, about twice the proportion of 0.7% among women. However, 0.9% of women reported being bisexual, slightly higher than the proportion of 0.6% among men.
There are no comparable Canadian data on sexual orientation. The results are similar to those obtained in the United States using the concept of identity.
The results indicate that, for some health-related measures, there are important differences between the heterosexual population and the gay, lesbian and bisexual population.
Among individuals aged 18 to 59, for example, 21.8% of homosexuals and bisexuals reported that they had an unmet health care need in 2003, nearly twice the proportion of heterosexuals (12.7%). Homosexuals and bisexuals are more likely than heterosexuals to find life stressful.
In addition, 31.4% of homosexuals and bisexuals reported that they were physically active in 2003, compared with 25.4% of heterosexuals.
Definitions, data sources and methods: survey number 3226.
The release is co-ordinated with today's release of Health indicators (82-221-XIE, free) a project to produce basic health indicators — such as use of health services, smoking and self-perception of health — for each health region and for peer groups of health regions.
For more information, contact Media Relations (613-951-4636), Communications Division.