While every Canadian faces his or her own unique set of health hurdles, there are a number of ailments that have become pervasive in Canada. Though medicine has advanced over the years, our modern lifestyles have introduced a new set of health challenges. Here are some of the top health problems that Canadians face today.
According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, diagnoses of diabetes among Canadians increased 70 percent from 1998/1999 to 2008/2009. For those ages 35 to 44, the number of diagnoses actually doubled in that decade! Experts blame the shocking increase in the disease on rising obesity rates, caused by diet and inactivity. The Canadian Diabetes Association says there are nine million Canadians with diabetes or prediabetes, and experts expect the prevalence of the disease to grow another 47 percent by 2024.
Heart disease and stroke are consistently among the leading causes of death in both men and women. Though some of the contributing factors, such as age, race and family history, are out of our control, many of the lifestyle factors associated with heart disease are on the rise. For instance, the rise in obesity and inactivity is putting more and more Canadians at risk. And for those Canadians living with diabetes, heart disease risk is also higher. While smoking has decreased greatly in the past decade, 16 percent of Canadians are still smoking, and putting themselves at a significantly higher risk for developing heart disease.
Multiple sclerosis may not be a leading killer, but it's a scary and uniquely Canadian disease. Canada has the highest rate of MS in the world, with about 100,000 people living with the disease. Most are diagnosed between the ages of 15 and 40, but the cause of the disease is still unknown. Mysteriously, some of the hardest hit countries seem to be those furthest from the equator, leading some people to believe that the disease is linked to a shortage of vitamin D, which is produced from sun exposure. But even accounting for our northern location, this theory doesn't seem to explain why our rate is a whopping 28 percent higher than that of Denmark, the country with the next highest rate.
Cancer as a whole is the leading cause of death among Canadians, and the incidence of the disease is expected to increase in coming years as our population ages. More than 75,000 Canadians are estimated to die of cancer a year. While lung and colorectal cancers account for 40 percent of all cancer deaths, skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer. In the past two decades, we have managed to decrease the death rates associated with many cancers, including breast, prostate and stomach cancers, but others, such as liver cancer, are on the rise. (Liver cancer is associated with hepatitis, alcohol use, obesity and diabetes.) Though there have been many advances in cancer research in the past several years, Canadians still have a long way to go in the fight against cancer.
While it's not a disease in itself, alcohol leads to a number of dangerous diseases in Canadians, including addiction and several types of cancer, but alcohol can also lead to other accidents and personal injuries. In fact, alcohol can account for eight percent of all deaths among Canadians under the age of 70, and a study from the journal Addiction says that Canadians drink about 50 percent more alcohol than the rest of the world, on average.
Much like cancer, chances are that everyone has been affected by mental illness in some way, whether through association with friends or family, or through their own struggles. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, 20 percent of Canadians will experience mental illness in their lifetime, and eight percent of adults will experience major depression. Mental illness also leads to suicide, which is one of the leading causes of death among Canadians from adolescence to middle age. Unfortunately, Canada still struggles to properly treat mental illness, as many patients wait months to see a psychiatrist or are forced to pay out of pocket for therapy.
There has been a recent flurry of misinformation warning the public about the safety of vaccines that has gotten health officials worried that we could soon see a rise in previously eradicated diseases. In early 2014, there was an outbreak of the measles in Fraser Valley, B.C., that made hundreds of people sick because of the failure to vaccinate against the disease. Currently, the province of British Columbia is reporting their lowest vaccination rates among kindergarteners in a decade. And it's not just affecting kids. During the 2014 flu season, a poll found that less than four in 10 Canadians received the flu shot, and the primary reason so many neglected to get it was because of a mistrust of vaccines. In the coming years, education about vaccines should be a priority in Canada to keep the next generation free of preventable diseases.
Our experts answer reader questions about dropping the last 10 pounds—or more.
Question: I've heard that lifting weights helps the body burn calories even when you're not active. True or false? — Reiko
Answer: That's true. A lot of women prioritize cardio because they want to lose fat, but that burns calories only while you're exercising; as soon as you stop, you're no longer burning as much. Instead, lifting weights revs up your metabolism, so you'll continue burning calories for a few hours after your workout. And don't worry about bulking up; women don't have enough testosterone for that. But you will get leaner!
— Trudie German, certified personal trainer and owner of bodyenvy.ca, Toronto
Question: Is it possible I'm meant to be this big? I've been about the same size all my adult life, give or take a dress size. My mom and my sister are both size 14, and so were my grandmas. Maybe it's genetics? — Anne
Answer: Your genes do play a role, but it's more important to remember that size isn't really a good measure of health. If you're active, feeling good and sleeping and eating well, you probably don't have to worry. According to the World Health Organization, obesity is defined as "abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that may impair health." Of course, as you get heavier, there's a greater likelihood your health could be negatively impacted. But it's impossible for me to tell just by having you step on a scale; I have to do all sorts of tests to see if your weight really is affecting your health.
— Dr. Arya Sharma, founder of the Canadian Obesity Network and professor at the University of Alberta
Question: I'm injured and I can't work out. Is it still possible to lose weight? (Even if I'm eating my feelings about not being able to exercise?) — Katie
Answer: It's certainly possible! In fact, what you eat has more of an impact on your weight than exercise. You won't be able to work off extra calories, so be particularly mindful of other factors that influence weight, too, by getting enough sleep, finding ways to manage stress and choosing healthy whole foods in appropriate portions. And try these tricks: Serve vegetables family-style so they're within easy reach, but keep richer foods on the stovetop; use a smaller plate; and focus on your food—you're more likely to overindulge if you're distracted, so try not to eat in front of the TV, in the car or at your desk at work. Lastly, don't deny your hunger; eventually, it will backfire and you'll find yourself overeating or grabbing a convenient but unhealthy snack. People often think they have to cut back on food if they're going to lose weight, but I counsel my clients to eat more during the day. The idea isn't to willpower your way to weight loss; it's to make sustainable changes.
— Casey Berglund, registered dietitian and owner of worthyandwell.com, Calgary
Salt and Pepper Steak Rub
Photography by Ryan Brook Image by: Salt and Pepper Steak Rub <br /> Photography by Ryan Brook
Photo courtesy of Davina Choy Image by: Photo courtesy of Davina Choy