Health Report

Lifestyle Dividends

Chris Wood October 23 2000
Health Report

Lifestyle Dividends

Chris Wood October 23 2000

Lifestyle Dividends

Health Report

Cover

Chris Wood

The ascent begins beyond a chain-link fence and a door that is locked between sunset and sunrise. Signs call attention to its menace, warning the unwary that a misstep could cost them their lives. Still, hundreds of people daily find the Grouse Grind irresistible. A heardess 2.9-km hiking trail that twists, mrns and clings to the side of North Vancouver’s Grouse Mountain as it aggressively climbs 2,800 feet, the Grind is an ultimate test of stamina. “We go against the clock,” explains North Vancouver hotel employee Faust Wälder, setting out last week. His best time up the trail is 62 minutes. Later, like most climbers, he will take a cable car back down the mountain— aching, sore and a triumphant few thousand steps closer to his real goal: “Keeping fit and turning the corner on the fat.” Wälder, 34, admits he has a way to go to that end—to say nothing of matching the Grind record of 27 minutes and 18 seconds. But he can justly claim to be helping his community earn another distinction. A Macleans ranking of the de-

livery of health care last June identified British Columbia’s North Shore—North and West Vancouver and the other affluent communities across Burrard Inlet from Vancouver— as the country’s best-served region. Now, this week’s latest Health Report counts the North Shore’s 175,000 people among the healthiest of Canadians. In 12 of 16 critical categories of Statistics Canada data reflecting health status, the North Shore scores significantly above the national average. In deaths from stroke and prostate cancer and HIV, its scores are in line with averages. Only in one area does the region fare significantly worse than the norm: the rate of deaths from flu and pneumonia.

Those results stand out even by the high standards of several nearby B.C. health regions. Neighbouring Vancouver/Richmond, South Fraser Valley (encompassing Surrey, Langley and White Rock) and Simon Fraser (Coquitlam, Burnaby and New Westminster), as well as the capital region embracing Vic-

toria, all show an exceptionally broad range of healthy signs in the survey.

But what accounts for the North Shores outstanding results? The fact that it is among Canadas wealthiest and besteducated regions no doubt plays a part. But that does not tell the whole story. Similarly well-off communities elsewhere did not score as well in status-ofhealth determinants. And despite its overall wealth, the North Shore has numerous pockets of socioeconomic vulnerability, including a fast-growing elderly population, single-parent families and four First Nations reserves.

Another explanation for the region’s good health can be found in natural endowments that offer a range of yearround outdoor activities unsurpassed in Canada (or most anywhere else). That, in turn, may have a lot to do with a phenomenon clearly at work on the North Shore: a culture of fitness. From the sea! wall (where they stroll and in-line skate) to their mountain summits (where they will soon be skiing and snowboarding), these are people who, for the most part, consider good cardio response a lot closer to godliness than mere cleanliness. Consider physician Dr. Joyce Davies, who emerges from the Grind with leaves in her hair and earth scuffed into the knees of torn trousers. In the previous week, she says, she has hiked uphill about 9,000 vertical feet—nearly two miles straight up. Davies is 76. Around the North Shore, she says, “if you see a fat slob coming along, they’re from somewhere else. It has nothing to do with poverty or wealth. It’s lifestyle.”

The lifestyle does not come cheap. Housing is the most expensive in the nation. Those who can afford to live on the North Shore have household incomes averaging $73,000 a year, 30 per cent higher than the national figure. (In West Vancouver, that average reaches $97,000.) Acknowledges Dr. Brian O’Connor, the regional medical health officer: “Good education leads to good employment, leads to good income, leads to a good quality of life.” And to a population that knows how to get what it needs. “If you’re a middle-class person, able

West Coast Wellness

The Vancouver area ranks high in some key measures of health

National average:

Vancouver/Richmond North/West Vancouver Surrey/Langley

Life

expectancy

(years)

80.5

79.6

Cancer

deaths

(per 100,000)

154.4

162.9

167.0

to deal easily with other middle-class professionals, you’ll get your problems solved,” notes O’Connor. “Whether they are health issues or political issues, they will be dealt with.”

Not all North Shore residents meet that description. The region’s two First Nations—the Squamish and Tsleil-waututh— don’t enjoy the same robust good health as many of their neighbours. A significant and growing number of elderly residents and young families strain to meet the elevated living costs. There are even some homeless people. Ironically, they get less help on the North Shore than they would in Canada’s poorest neighbourhood, Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. “In a community of such affluence we become blinded,” O’Connor laments. “We don’t notice the people living on the margins.”

But affluence on its own may matter less than the access it buys to some of nature’s most spectacular exercise equipment. Goldsmith Julia Baker keeps her 46-year-old muscles toned by biking up West Vancouver’s hills, skiing in season, working out in the gym and doing the Grind twice a week. Wealth may

Good health abounds in Vancouver and its wealthy North Shore suburbs

play a role in the region’s health, she says, “but people of any economic strata with a decent pair of shoes can go hiking.”

The low-cost activity attracts hundreds of people weekly to North Shore trails. Many clubs organize group outings for various skill levels.

This, though, is no ordinary hiking. Outdoorsman and forest ecologist Paul Vaughan, 28, spent an inheritance he received in his native New Brunswick just to move to the North Shores mountainous terrain. Now, he earns a living leading an average of three hiking groups a week. Because hiking, jogging or biking anywhere on the North Shore involves a lot of going uphill, Vaughan contends it provides a superior workout. “You can ride a bike on the flats in Saskatchewan a whole day,” he argues, “and not get the benefits you do in an hour riding up the mountain.”

Across the North Shore, public-health officials work with municipal recreation departments to cross-promote each other’s services. At the year-old Parkgate Community Centre in the region’s east, public-health nurses share space with municipal recreation co-ordinators and a nonprofit community society. Next door is a library, and the building’s drop-in attractions run from Internet access to pickup badminton. A large gym boasts a 25-foot climbing wall. Down the hall are a weight room, sauna and studios for pottery, painting and dance. “I can show by example,” says assistant seniors co-ordinator Peggy Cardno,

“that you can take up boxing in your 70s.” From the seawall to the community centre to the Grind, Canada’s healthiest region leaves no excuse for sloth—at any age. ES

Circulatory

disease

deaths

(per 100,000)

POT

201.7

208.3

233.3

Coronary heart disease deaths

(per 100,000)

104.4 100 126.9