Hot! SDHU studies effects of wealth on health

TheSudburyStar.com – news/local
May 21, 2013.   Jonathan Migneault

Sudbury’s most economically deprived areas had more than four times as many emergency department visits for mental health episodes as the more well off parts of the city.

A new study by the Sudbury and Distr ict Health Unit, called Opportunity for All: The Path to Health Equity, looked at social determinants of health and their impact in Sudbury.

Researchers looked at 42 health indicators and discovered a significant statistical difference between rich and poor neighbourhoods for 15 of the indicators.

“Clearly, not everyone has the same opportunity for health, but this can and needs to be changed,” Dr. Penny Sutcliffe, Sudbury and District Medical Officer of Health, said in a release.

“There is untapped health opportunity in our community, and we all — citizens, businesses, public agencies, governments — need to take stock and ask ourselves the hard questions about whether the health differences are acceptable and what we are willing to do to reduce them.”

Parts of the city’s core, such as the Flour Mill, the Donovan, Gatchell and Minnow Lake, were among the most deprived neighbourhoods in the city. Chelmsford and small parts of Valley East were also considered some of Sudbury’s more deprived geographic areas.

Education, employment levels, the number of single-parent families and people living alone were all taken into account to determine whether or not a neighbourhood was considered deprived.

The least deprived areas included the city’s south end, most of Valley East and Lively.

Premature mortality, before the age of 75, was almost twice as high in the more deprived regions. Obesity rates were twice as high in the deprived regions and infant mortality rates were 2.4 times higher.

Gary Kinsman, a sociology professor at Laurentian University and member of the Sudbury Coalition Against Poverty, said he wasn’t surprised by the study’s findings. “It’s pretty obvious, just in terms of common sense, that if you’re living in poverty you have access to less nutritious food,” Kinsman said.

Kinsman said in addition to poorer eating habits, people who live in poverty also experience more stress, which can lead to a number of health problems. “Day-to-day survival work is something that you’re engaged in all the time,” he said. “That leads to a lot of stress and fears and concerns on what will come next in your life.”

To reduce the health gap between rich and poor, Kinsman said the Ontario government should put more funding into social programs and reinstate the Special Diet Supplement program to 2005 funding levels.

The supplement program allows people on Ontario Works or the Ontario Disability Support Program with special dietary restrictions or specific health problems to receive up to $200 a month to purchase food. But Kinsman said it is harder to qualify for the program than it once was, and most people only receive $20 to $25 a month on average.

The Sudbury and District Health Unit report said if the social gap between rich and poor neighbourhoods were eliminated there would be 14,077 fewer emergency department visits per year in the city, 1,783 fewer hospitalizations for all causes and 9,706 more people in the City who rate their health as excellent or very good.

“With informed, creative and concerted action to improve the public’s health, no one in our community needs to be at risk of poor health solely due to the social and economic environments in which they live,” the report concluded. “The health inequities described in this report are not inevitable– together we can build a community in which there is opportunity for all.”

The health unit also said the health differences it found are not inevitable. “This community has come together on many issues: I can easily think of the excellent work in the child sector, social planning and policing right off the top,” said Dr. Sutcliffe. “There is every reason to believe that we care, that we think health differences based on social and economic status are not acceptable and that together we can find solutions.”

Greater Sudbury Police Chief Frank Elsner agreed. “The health unit had a meeting with many of us in December 2012 … We were all there — social planning, mental health, child care, education, the municipality, and many others– and we all said that this city is resilient. We have all worked hard over the years to reduce the risks for the most vulnerable in our community and together we can do even more.”

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