CMA report linking poor health to poverty demands action, Senator Hugh Segal says

Posted on August 1, 2013 in Social Security Debates – news/local
July 31, 2013.   By Janina Enrile

The senator for Kingston-Frontenac-Leeds is calling for policy changes in government, following a report from the Canadian Medical Association that says bad health can be a result of poverty.

Hugh Segal said this can be helped through the implementation of a guaranteed annual income, which would alleviate concerns for people who couldn’t afford healthier food, which is often more expensive.

The report is based on public consultations done at six “town halls” held across Canada last winter and spring. It also said other factors like early childhood education programs, lack of healthy food access, and poor housing conditions also affect health.

“Poverty is not caused by bad health. It’s bad health that is caused by poverty,” he said. “It’s the combination of financial stress, the lack of nutritional balance, the lack of exercise (and) the lack of literacy often associated with people living poverty.”

In the 1970s, the Mincome social experiment was done in small farming communities. Everyone in the town would receive a guaranteed annual income. Over the course of four years, the test showed positive effects — hospital visits were down and more teenagers graduated high school.

“While the premiers in Ottawa may disagree on a bunch of things … I’m hopeful that Minister (of Employment and Social Development Jason) Kenney, when he meets with the premiers, might in fact look for the opportunities to do these projects … so we can move to a more efficient way to deal with poverty,” Segal said.

If there’s no push to deal with poverty soon, he said, there will be greater effects in the near future as a large part of the population ages.

“They’re going to need more health care even if they are doing reasonably okay financially,” Segal said. “Then you have the steady stream of poorer people who are going to need health care. This is going to introduce some very serious difficulties in terms of our health system’s capacity to respond.”

It’s why the introduction of a guaranteed annual income would help especially, said Elaine Power, a Queen’s University professor in the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies.

“It would cost a lot in the short term,” she said. “As a long-term investment strategy, I think it’s the most important thing we can do for the health and the fiscal sustainability of the country.”

The poor nutrition that results from a lower income adds to other anxieties, Power said.

“That contributes to your health… There’s the stress of knowing that other people have better lives than you. There’s the stress of being a parent and knowing you can’t provide for your children,” she said. “The chronic stress probably interacts with poor nutrition (and) chronic malnutrition to make things even worse.”

On the ground in Kingston, there’s been effort put towards helping low-income residents of the city.

Each Wednesday from mid-June to the end of September, the Community Harvest Market runs at the Wally Elmer Neighbourhood Centre.

The market, which has been going for five years, features locally-grown produce at affordable prices, as well as baked goods, preserves, crafts, and other specialty items.

It’s supported through Community Harvest Gardens, which lets locals cultivate gardens, where the produce is sold at the market.

The Community Harvest is run by a coalition that includes representatives from Kingston Community Health Centres, Loving Spoonful, the Sisters of Providence, and others.

Tara Kainer, of the Sisters of Providence, said initiatives like the market and the garden help mitigate issues with poverty and nutrition.

“What the Community Harvest tries to do is increase access to healthy food for low income (families) in particular, which is why we have a market in Rideau Heights rather than downtown somewhere,” she said.

According to Kainer, the children who come by the market are especially keen.

“Our most conscientious customers and frequent customers were the children in the neighbourhood,” she said. “They’ve learned a lot in five years. They get educated about good nutrition. We’re able to teach them that.”

She said it helps set up healthy eating behaviours for the future.

“The more they get into the habit of eating healthy food, the more they’re going to want to purchase it when they get older,” Kainer said.

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3 Responses to “CMA report linking poor health to poverty demands action, Senator Hugh Segal says”

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  2. While I am completely in agreement with Hugh Segal’s goal of implementing a guaranteed annual income, I am surprised to hear it is in response to a report that says “bad health can result of poverty.” I am surprised because this information is not new. In 2003, The World Health Organization released the list of health determinants in which social and economic environment featured prominently. A vast amount of research before and since have left anyone willing to read or listen with the impression that health is definitely negatively impacted by poverty.

    The issue is not lack of information, but lack of political will. With a majority conservative government in power, it’s little wonder that our social safety net has been shrinking rather than growing. Under conservative ideology, everyone should provide for his or her own needs through work, savings, and acquisition of property. The belief is that equality of incomes from work will destroy people’s work incentives and interfere with the free market. If we are to implement a guaranteed annual income we don’t need more research, we need a different government with a different ideology.

  3. While reading this article by Janina Enrile, I found myself intrigued yet questioning certain aspects of her research and the references used. I do not doubt that bad health can be a result of poverty, however correlation does not mean causation and therefore I disagree with the reference made to Segal who insists that “Poverty is not caused by bad health. It’s bad health that is caused by poverty”. In reference to eating habits, although healthier options may not always be accessible or at times affordable to those living in poverty, it is not just the poor that reach for these items lacking in nutrients. A vast majority of citizens that are economically sound lean on these options as they are quicker and more efficient in a time constrained society.

    Secondly, by suggesting that a guaranteed annual income will solve the problem of bad health, neglects to acknowledge individual differences. There are several factors such as being disabled, elderly, or having dependants that increase the likelihood of an individual requiring more financial assistance. Although the state of our current welfare system in Ontario is not perfect, it at least acknowledges some of these groups of individuals with its social assistance programs.

    Lastly I believe it is the knowledge of the products we are buying that will in hopes change our decisions. This is where the use of a local market, as mentioned in the article, serving fresh and affordable produce in low economic areas combats this larger scale issue.


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