Reducing child poverty urged as health priority

Posted on June 20, 2008 in Child & Family Debates, Governance Debates, Health Debates, Social Security Debates – Canada – Reducing child poverty urged as health priority
June 20, 2008. Joanna Smith, Ottawa Bureau

Ottawa–Reducing child poverty will benefit the health of all Canadians, the country’s chief public health officer recommended in his first annual report on the physical and mental well-being of the population.

“Every dollar spent in ensuring a healthy start in the early years will reduce the long-term costs associated with health care, addictions, crime, unemployment and welfare,” Dr. David Butler-Jones wrote in his report on the state of public health in Canada.

Tabled on Wednesday by Conservative MP Steven Fletcher, parliamentary secretary for health, the report highlights the role economic, social and environmental factors play in physical and mental health.

“While some health challenges can be related to our genetic makeup, evidence shows that Canadians with adequate shelter, a safe and secure food supply, access to education, employment and sufficient income for basic needs, adopt healthier behaviours and have better health,” Butler-Jones wrote in the introduction.

“I would argue that a society is only as healthy as the least healthy among us.”

Reducing child poverty was one of his major recommendations for moving forward.

He said that to tackle child poverty, Canada should examine: income-redistribution policies; healthy early learning and childhood development and other levels of education; targeted interventions to support children in low-income families and “collective contributions” to alleviate child poverty.

The report also suggested adopting programs “with proven success in reducing child poverty rates.”

It highlighted Pathways to Education – a support program for at-risk and disadvantaged youth in the Regent Park area of Toronto that reduced school dropout rates from 56 per cent to 10 per cent in that neighbourhood – as a program that should be adopted nationwide.

Butler-Jones was in Charlottetown, yesterday and not available for an interview.

Liberal public health critic Carolyn Bennett praised the report for its focus on inequalities in health but was disappointed it was not announced with more fanfare. A press release was posted to the Public Health Agency of Canada website Wednesday but was not sent out to reporters and Butler-Jones did not announce the report himself.

“How can you put the public back in public health when you just put something up on a website and no one knows to look for it?” Bennett said in an interview yesterday.

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