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Introduction to the annual report 2003

Since 1999, Statistics Canada and the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) have reported collaboratively on health issues in Canada—Statistics Canada on the health of the population, and CIHI on the performance of the health care system. The Statistics Canada series of reports, How Healthy Are Canadians?, addresses a different theme each year. The first report focused on health status and the use of health care services over the life cycle. The second edition looked at health differences between men and women, and the third, health in communities.

The title of this fourth edition is Growing up Healthy?, which suggests the rationale for a focus on children. In an affluent Western country, our children should be “growing up healthy.” Indeed, international comparisons indicate that by the measures traditionally used to assess population health, Canadian children are thriving. Childhood infectious diseases are well controlled, and Canadian students perform strongly in international tests of math, science and reading. Yet when asked about how they perceive their health, a surprisingly large proportion of young people convey a less positive view. This report is intended to examine the conditions that impede, as well as those that enhance, children’s potential to “grow up healthy.”

The analyses are based on data from three Statistics Canada surveys: the National Population Health Survey, the Canadian Community Health Survey, and the National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth. Recent cross-sectional data from these surveys offer a timely picture of Canadian children and youth. And data collected from youngsters who are being followed over time provide the opportunity to explore longer-term relationships between characteristics in the mid-1990s and subsequent physical and mental health outcomes.

The first article sets the tone of Growing up Healthy? The analysis in this article, “Factors related to adolescents’ self-perceived health,” identifies issues other than illness that are linked to less favourable ratings of health. For example, the roles of obesity, smoking, physical inactivity and heavy drinking are examined. The articles that follow delve deeper, to consider factors that relate to more specific aspects of children’s and adolescents’ health in the short- and longer-term.

Healthy children are naturally lively and active. But increasingly, children spend their leisure time sitting—engrossed in video games, computer-based pursuits and television viewing. “Children who become active” focuses on conditions linked to children’s becoming physically active. A variety of influences are considered, including time spent watching TV as well as hours of physical education classes offered at school.

Reflecting the shift in children’s activities toward sedentary pastimes, excess weight among children and teens is now so prevalent that it is popularly regarded as an “epidemic.” The article, “Parent and child factors associated with youth obesity,” investigates behaviours, circumstances and parental characteristics that relate to obesity in adolescents. Differences between boys and girls, which may reflect gender-specific social pressures and responses to such pressures, are also explored.

The gender gap emerges as an important issue in “Adolescent self-concept and health into adulthood,” which studies links between self-worth and sense of control in adolescence, and mental and physical health over the next several years. Health outcomes in young adulthood are analyzed in relation to positive and negative self-concept in adolescence, and differences between the sexes are highlighted.

The final article, “Witnessing violence—aggression and anxiety in young children,” calls attention yet again to the importance of the context in which children grow up. This article focuses on children who were aged 4 to 7 in 1994, and examines levels of anxiety and aggression in relation to their exposure to violence in the home. The evidence that emerges of the short- and longer-term effects on their behaviour and emotions is compelling.

These analyses of nationally representative data touch on important issues related to the health of our children. A complex blend of personal and societal factors influence children’s emotional and physical well-being. As these articles indicate, family nurturing, peers, school environment and socio-economic opportunity each have a role in the formative experiences that determine whether our children are “growing up healthy.”

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Date Modified: 2003-11-19 Important Notices