Health Report

Condition Critical

Brenda Branswell October 23 2000
Health Report

Condition Critical

Brenda Branswell October 23 2000

Condition Critical

Health Report

Cover

Brenda Branswell

Snow flutters through the grey Montreal sky on a bonechilling October morning. But the icy cold is fine with Linda Cooper as she jogs through an almost deserted Mount Royal park. “On a day like today it’s fabulous,” insists Cooper, 52, a professor at McGill University’s faculty of education. “It’s refreshing and invigorating.” Running has been a fixture in Cooper’s life since her teen years. Her family shares a similar exercise ethic. A few hundred metres away, her husband, Ellis, darts past the colour-splashed trees near Beaver Lake. Their two daughters work out. Even their shaggy golden retriever, Allegro, has been running with them for a decade. Cooper’s goal is not to go farther or faster, but simply to avoid getting injured. “I just want to be able to maintain this forever,” she says. “I want to be jogging when Em 80.”

Her health-conscious lifestyle may help Cooper reach that target. Unfortunately, many Quebecers may not fare so well. The Macleans Health Report paints a gloomy picture of Quebecers’ overall health. Of the 51 Canadian health regions included in the analysis of health data, almost all of Quebec’s 11 regions fall into the bottom half of the pack. The findings are based on a broad series of 16 health indicators from

life expectancy to coronary FlVC of 1 1 Ouebec heart disease, cancer deaths

and suicides. Five of the Quebec regions—those including Trois-Rivières, StJérôme, Joliette, Hull and Chicoutimi—post among the worst results in the country. Only Laval fares relatively well, placing midway through the pack. On a more positive note, all but one of the Quebec regions (Joliette) record lowerthan-average death rates from pneumonia and flu.

The results cannot be read as a strict ranking. But in pointing to problem areas, they reinforce the gravity of some key health issues facing Quebec, from high overall cancer death rates to an alarming number of suicides. Deaths from colorectal cancer surpass the national average in nine of the Quebec regions, with Chicoutimi posting the worst rate in the province. Even more grim are lung cancer deaths, with Quebec rates, notably among men, far exceeding the national average.

If lung cancer deaths are excluded, Quebec health officials note, the province’s cancer mortality rate falls much in line with the rest of Canadas. But they readily concede the havoc still wreaked by cigarettes. “I think we can continue to say that Quebec is the smoking section of Canada,” says Dr.

regions are among the worst in the country

Marcel Boulanger, head of a provincial smoking prevention group. Eager to shed the dubious label, the government now covers the costs of the nicotine patch, anti-smoking gums and Zyban, a medication that reduces the desire to smoke, under its drug insurance plan.

Montreal real estate agent Gilles Morin, 56, is one of the challenging cases that Boulanger deals with at a Montreal smoking cessation clinic. Morin kept smoking a pack a day despite two heart attacks, one cardiac arrest, several angioplasty procedures to clear blocked arteries and the installation of a pacemaker. Efforts to quit on his own have failed. But Morin began taking Zyban in late September and says he has already cut his cigarette consumption in half. With medical help and greater motivation, Morin is determined to quit altogether this week. “It’s going to work,” he insists. “I’m convinced.”

On another troubling health front, with the number of suicides in Quebec rising in recent decades, the rate in all but one of the Quebec regions, Montreal, significantly exceeds the national average. It is particularly acute among Quebec men. “It’s the leading cause of death among men under 40,” says Danielle St-Laurent, an epidemiologist with the province’s public health institute. “When I tell people that, they are astounded.”

Researchers at Statistics Canada suggest one reason for Quebec’s high rates is the diligence of the province’s coroners in keeping track of unexplained deaths and listing them as suicides once the cause is established. But St-Laurent believes that even if underestimated numbers in other provinces were corrected, Quebec would still have the highest rate in Canada. Across a broad spectrum of indicators, Quebec’s health challenges are clear.