Ontario budget and health system crisis looming without new focus on preventing chronic disease 

TORONTO (May 16, 2014) – Ontario is lagging far behind other provinces to prevent chronic disease and the consequences will overwhelm the provincial budget and health care sector if Ontario’s political leaders don’t act.

That according to Chris Markham, Chair of the Ontario Chronic Disease Prevention Alliance (OCDPA), the united voice of 23 of Ontario’s leading health-related, non-governmental organizations.

Citing figures from the TD Canada report entitled “Charting A Path To Sustainable Health Care In Ontario”, Mr. Markham said, “If Ontario does not start investing in health promotion, policies and programs to prevent chronic disease instead of just focusing on treatment, health care costs could take up 80 per cent of the province’s budget by 2030.”

Ontario’s health care system is developed to respond to acute medical issues, urgent patient needs, and pressing concerns. Diagnostic testing, symptom relief and the quest for a cure are characteristics of contemporary health care. “Our health care system is not structured to adequately support preventive practices. The time and opportunity required to inform patients about health promotion and disease prevention strategies is all too often lacking or insufficient,” says Mark Holland, Director of Health Promotion and Public Affairs, Heart and Stroke Foundation, Ontario.

Chronic diseases place a great strain on the health care system, currently costs the Ontario Government tens of billions of dollars every year, not to mention the strain diseases put on the quality of life for those living with preventable disease. “In order for Ontario to become the healthiest province in Canada, we must work together to address the key factors influencing chronic disease.” says Joanne Di Nardo, Senior Manager, Public Issues, Canadian Cancer Society, Ontario Division. “Effective health promotion programs can return over $5 for every $1 spent; prevention saves government dollars in the long run.”

Many diseases can be prevented by significantly increasing the government’s focus on five key risk factors: physical activity, healthy eating, positive mental health, high-risk alcohol consumption and tobacco use.

The Ontario Chronic Disease Prevention Alliance is calling on Ontario’s political parties to make Ontario the Healthiest Province in Canada by 2018.  To do this the OCDPA is recommending that each party:

  • Commit to accelerate and deepen health promotion efforts to achieve the following targets in these key factor areas by 2018:
    • More than 70 per cent of Ontarians are physically active.
    • More than 50 per cent of Ontarians eat fruit and vegetables more than 5 times per day.
    • Fewer than 30 per cent of Ontarians are either overweight or obese.
    • Fewer than 16 per cent of Ontarians do not exceed Canada’s Low Risk Drinking Guidelines.*
    • Fewer than 15 per cent of Ontarians report experiencing negative mental health symptoms.**
    • Ontario to have the lowest smoking prevalence or smoking rate in Canada.
  • Embed a health impact filter across all government initiatives.
  • Focus on reducing health inequities.

More than half of Ontarians are affected by chronic disease. Over 80 per cent of the population over 65 has at least one chronic disease, while approximately 70 per cent live with two or more.

The OCDPA is urging all political parties to commit to making Ontario the healthiest province through a sustained and multi-faceted strategy that will include strategic investments, effective policies, environmental supports, and public education to effect broad societal changes in health behaviours.

Investing in health promotion, policies and programs to prevent chronic disease will save billions of dollars in health care costs and lost productivity. It will improve the province’s economic prosperity and substantially improve the quality of life of every person in Ontario who can avoid preventable disease.

“We are urging Ontario politicians from all political stripes to prevent this emerging health system and budget crisis caused by preventable, chronic disease,” Mr. Markham concluded.

*The Canadian Cancer Society recommends that if you choose to drink alcohol, reduce your cancer risk by keeping it to less than 1 drink a day for women and less than 2 drinks a day for men (this is lower than Canada’s Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines).

**Dementia is an umbrella term for a variety of brain disorders that affect cognitive function. Mental illness and dementia, though not the same, are related and intertwined. The OCDPA Healthiest Province campaign target of reducing the number of people who self-report experiencing mental health symptoms includes symptoms related to dementia, including depression, anxiety, and stress.

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