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Women in Canada: Women and health

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Released: 2016-03-08

About 60% of females aged 12 or older living in households in Canada rate their overall health as very good or excellent. As well, women aged 65 or older are more likely to report very good or excellent health compared with 10 years earlier.

The findings are from a new chapter, "The health of girls and women in Canada," in the seventh edition of Women in Canada: A Gender-based Statistical Report, released today. Using a life-course perspective, this chapter presents a summary of the physical and mental health of girls and women in Canada.

Lower household income and less education are associated with negative health behaviours and chronic conditions among girls and women aged 12 or older. For example, compared with those in the highest household income quintile, females in the lowest are more likely to report smoking (20% versus 12%), high blood pressure (21% versus 11%), and diabetes (9% versus 3%). Disparities were similar between women with less than high school graduation and those with a bachelor's degree or more.


Just over a quarter of girls aged 6 to 11 are overweight or obese, according to their measured body mass index, and an estimated 8% meet the physical activity guideline of at least 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) every day.

Since 1993, leukemia and central nervous system (including brain) cancers have accounted for slightly more than half of new cancer cases among girls aged younger than 10, and 60% of all cancer deaths among those aged younger than 15.


An estimated 28% of girls aged 12 to 18 are overweight or obese, twice the proportion in 1981, while 2.5% of girls aged 12 to 17 meet the physical activity guideline of at least 60 minutes of MVPA daily.

Estimates show that 7% of girls aged 12 to 19 smoke daily, less than half the 15% who smoked in 2003. Reported marijuana use in the previous 12 months has also declined over time. The rates of heavy drinking remains fairly stable at around 10%.

Thyroid cancer accounts for a growing percentage of new cancer cases among girls aged 15 to 19, increasing from 13% to 22% over a 10-year period.

Almost all girls (97%) aged 12 to 19 report being satisfied or very satisfied with their life in general. Even so, the percentage who perceived their mental health as fair or poor doubled from 3% in 2003 to 7%. In a recent study, anti-depressants were the second most reported prescription medication used by girls and young women aged 15 to 24, after hormonal contraceptives.


The prevalence of obesity among adult women has increased significantly since 1981, with a greater increase at ages 20 to 39 (from 4% to 24%) than at ages 40 to 59 (from 13% to 29%). Additionally, 30% of women aged 18 to 39 and 18% of those aged 40 to 59 meet the activity guideline of at least 150 minutes (in bouts of 10 minutes or more) of MVPA per week.

Since 2003, smoking rates have decreased among adult women, with the largest decline at ages 35 to 44 (from 25% to 16%).

The percentage of women aged 20 to 34 categorized as heavy drinkers increased over the same period from 17% to 24%. However, women continue to be less likely than men to report alcohol or drug abuse or dependency.

Since 2000, cancer has been the leading cause of death for women aged 35 to 64, with breast, lung and colorectal cancers the most frequently diagnosed.

Of women aged 40 to 59, 20% have hypertension, compared with 28% of men. Mortality rates for heart disease for both sexes have declined over time, and women are less likely than men to die from heart disease.

Women aged 20 to 34 are more likely than men to report life stress (25% versus 21%) and work stress (29% versus 24%). Women aged 45 to 64 are twice as likely as men to be classified as having had a major depressive episode (6% versus 3%) or generalized anxiety disorder (4% versus 2%) in the previous year. In a recent study, women aged 45 to 64 were more likely than men to report using anti-depressants (17% versus 8%).

Age 65 or older

Of women aged 65 to 79 living in households, 23% are obese and 69% have a waist circumference that puts them at high health risk.

Since 2003, smoking rates have fallen from 10% to 8% among women aged 65 or older living in households, while rates for men have remained relatively stable at about 11%. Women in this age group are less likely than men to report alcohol or marijuana use.

Women and men aged 60 to 79 living in households are equally likely to suffer from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (15% for both) or to be categorized as hypertensive (54% versus 51%). Women aged 65 or older are less likely than men to be diagnosed with diabetes (16% versus 21%) or heart disease (14% versus 19%), but more likely to be diagnosed with urinary incontinence (14% versus 9%).

Heart disease is the second leading cause of death (after cancer) for women (and men) aged 65 to 84, and the leading cause of death for women (and men) aged 85 or older.

Estimates show that 74% of women aged 65 or older living in households reported a somewhat to very strong sense of belonging to their local community. They are more likely than women who reported a weaker sense of belonging to have very good or excellent perceived mental health (72% versus 59%), very good or excellent overall health (51% versus 37%), and to be satisfied or very satisfied with their life (93% versus 81%).

  Note to readers

In this study, data from the Canadian Community Health Survey (2003 to 2014), the Canadian Health Measures Survey (2007 to 2013), the Canadian Cancer Registry (1993 to 2012), and the Vital statistics–Birth and Death databases (1991 to 2011) are used to examine the health of girls and women in Canada. This information is supplemented with data from the Canadian Institute for Health Information, and findings from published research papers and reports.


The article "The health of girls and women in Canada," is now available online as part of the publication Women in Canada: A Gender-based Statistical Report (Catalogue number89-503-X). From the Browse by key resource module of our website, choose Publications.

The publication Women in Canada: A Gender-based Statistical Report, seventh edition (Catalogue number89-503-X), is a collaborative effort of Status of Women Canada and Statistics Canada.

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