Why A Provincial Wellness Strategy
The impacts are individual and societal
An ancient proverb reads “you never miss the well until the water runs dry.” This proverb speaks to health at the individual and provincial level. Humans often carry on with day to day living with little thought of any preventative health activities, for a variety of reasons, until a health challenge occurs. When it does occur, it has a very personal impact on the individual and the ripples are felt across society including the person’s family, co-workers and community members.
At an individual level, living with a chronic disease or illness can and does pose great challenges to a person’s physical and mental health. The challenges become even more compounded if the environment where they live isn’t conducive to making healthy choices, if the supports they require do not exist or if they haven’t developed the necessary skills to manage the condition.5
As chronic disease rates and illness rise, which is the case in PEI1,2, the challenges faced by Islanders become even more acute because there are many more people attempting to access the same services & supports. This is where we begin to see the impacts on a provincial level and the trends are very alarming.
- Consider the following statistics:
- 1 in 3 Islanders (31%) have a chronic condition
- 1 in 5 Islanders (20 years and older) have hypertension
- 1 in 11 Islanders (20 years and older) have been diagnosed with diabetes
- 1 in 7 Islanders (35 years and older) have Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
- In any given year, 1 in 5 Canadians experiences a mental health or addiction problem6
- 7 out of 10 mental health problems have their onset during childhood or adolescence6
- 1 in 4 Islanders (27%) who consumed alcohol in the last twelve months reported heavy drinking
- 1 in 2 Islanders (48%) are considered inactive
- 6 in 10 Islanders (18 years of age and older) have self reported they are overweight or obese
- 1 in 6 Islanders (20% males and 17% females) over the age of 12 are smokers
- More than 2 in 3 Islanders (68%) 12 years and older do not consume the recommended five vegetables and fruits per day.
- 1 in 4 Island students from grades 5 to 12 report watching more than 2 hours of television per day (and this doesn’t include computer or video game time)
Our landscape is changing
The wellness challenges Islanders are facing is further complicated by a number of societal trends which make living well even more difficult. Technological advances continue to provide entertaining opportunities to engage with electronic devices however this appears to be at the expense of enjoying nature, being physically active and spending social time with family and friends. Active Healthy Kids Canada reports that Canadian children spend an average of 7 hours and 48 minutes of screen time per day with less than 20% meeting the sedentary behavior guidelines of no more than 2 hours per day.
The availability of convenience foods to support the need for quick meals continues to grow, though these foods often have very high levels of sodium, sugar and calories.9 Foods and beverages that once were deemed “treats” are now consumed as everyday foods and food costs continue to grow whereby the purchase of healthier foods becomes more challenging for the majority of Islanders.
The work environment is changing and employees are spending longer periods of time at work in more sedentary positions. Employees are indicating the balance between work and home life is becoming increasingly tougher to manage and as a result stress levels and mental health issues continue to rise.
The provincial demographics are also changing. By 2020, it is estimated that 1 in 5 Islanders will be over the age of 65 and this rate is expected to grow as each year passes.1 In 2013, PEI saw the highest level of inter-provincial outmigration in the last 30 years which also impacts our demographic trends and the effect it has on our communities and families.
The costs are real
The social, economic and emotional costs of chronic disease and illness are rising and will change the way of life for Islanders. The province is nearing a point where 1 out of every 2 dollars from the provincial budget will be spent on health care13, 14 and it is well documented that chronic disease rates rise with an ageing population and as a result treatment costs will rise.
Small rural towns and communities are seeing their population decrease on an annual basis with more and more Islanders moving to urban settings to be closer to the service centers or leaving the province in search of employment.15 These changes are leading to reduced social opportunities and a decline in the types of opportunities traditionally available at the community level.
Caring for and supporting a loved one dealing with a chronic disease or illness is complicated and takes a toll on the caregiver over time. As the health system continues to face new pressures to care for the increasing numbers of Islanders dealing with chronic diseases and illness, more support will be required from families, friends and the community at large.
The time to act is now
While the statistics seem daunting, and the issues complex, Islanders cannot lose sight of the many groups, organizations and individuals working to reverse these trends. This strategy must build on this great work, strengthen the partnerships among interested groups, bring new groups to the table and provide specific actions that lead to a higher quality of life for more Islanders in the future.
The supports Islanders require looks significantly different for each and every one and therefore the actions need to be holistic and cover all stages of life (infants, children and youth, adults and older adults) in a variety of settings (community, workplaces and schools) to impact change.