Canadian Health

March 26, 2003

To live a healthy life one must understand the concepts of health and disease. Only after that will we be able to determine how to improve the quality of life and sense of wellness and enjoy empowerment. According to a Canadian Health promotion survey by the Government of Canada (1985), only “61% of Canadians report their health as good or excellent; 42% report that they are very happy.” Clearly there is much room for improvement.

Here are the terms that will be able us to understand how to achieve a healthy life style.

What is health:
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines health as “a complete state of physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of illness.“

However, the WHO definition does not addresses the important ecological context of our lives which is the relationship between humans and their physical, biological and social environment.

Concepts of disease:
Disease is an objective phenomenon that can be diagnosed by a health professional and can be characterized in relation to specific organ. Diseases are treatable through bio-medical interventions but sometimes they can not be cured either because of the extent of damage done by disease or simply because there is no cure yet available.

Determinants of Health are simply factors that make Canadians Healthy or Unhealthy:
In the past, the primary focus was on diagnosing and treating existing disease. More recently, however, this approach has been replaced by the concept of prevention. The Canadian view of the determinants of health includes:
1) human biology;
2) environment;
3) lifestyle;
4) and the health care organization.

Gender and Ethnicity are also recently incorporated into determinants of health.

Here is a brief look at the determinants of health and their overall effects on human health.
(Shah, 1998; Health Canada Determinants, 2003)

1) Human biology
The Genetic make-up of an individual can make them susceptible to certain some diseases. For example, sickle cell anaemia is most prominent in the black population. Age and sex are also factors that determine the susceptibility of Canadians to certain health conditions, e.g. women are more prone to chronic depression due to specific hormones present in women bodies only. As we age, our immune system becomes less tolerant to disease; arthritis and broken bones are very common in old people because their bodies produce less calcium as compared to young people.

2) Environment
Daily interaction between us and our physical environment makes us vulnerable to the contaminants in air and water. These pollutants or contaminants not only the cause of variety of health ailments but also contribute toward mortality in the Canadian population. According to the Second Report on the Health of Canadians, “The prevalence of childhood asthma, a respiratory disease that is highly sensitive to airborne contaminants, has increased sharply over the last two decades, especially among the age group 0 to 5.

3) Life style and behavioural risk factors :
(Shah, 1998, p.87; Health Canada Determinants, 2003)

Risk factors related to a person’s lifestyle, economic status, sex or age may make them more susceptible to certain illnesses. For example, a high income and social status results in more control and discretion in one’s life. Lifestyle risk factors, like the lack of seat belt use, are a major cause of death and disability in the Canadian population today.

These risk factors can be influenced by a person’s social and physical environment. An excellent example of how this can occur, is the risk incurred by teens who smoke due to peer pressure.

Morbidity and Mortality

Mortality is the scientific term for death and morbidity is the state of sickness.
Morbidity and mortality are two factors that help us measure the health of a population. According to the author of Public Health and Preventive Medicine in Canada (Shah, 1998, p.122), “The major causes of death for both men and women are ischemic heart diseases, cancer, suicide, motor vehicle accidents, AIDS and stroke. This information about morbidity and mortality plays an important role in developing preventive strategies. These strategies must be based on a better understanding of disease, and the preventable risk factors that play a role in creating disease. Some of the most significant causes of Canadian mortality, along with their risk factors, are:

Cancer accounted for almost 28% of all deaths in Canada in 1994. Cancer is caused by the abnormal growth of human cells. A few cancers are associated with inherited genetic factors while the rest are caused by environmental factors, diet, lifestyle choices (smoking and alcohol) etc.

More than one out of every three Canadians will develop some form of cancer in their lifetime. The three leading cancers in women are breast cancer, colorectal cancer and lung cancer; in men these are prostate cancer, lung cancer and colorectal cancer.

Cardiovascular Disease (CVD) and stroke
Heart disease is the second leading cause of death to Canadians and accounted for 25% of the total deaths in 1994. The most common forms of CVD are ischemic or coronary heart disease, acute myocardial infractions (heart attacks), and cerebrovascular disease (stroke). Smoking, high blood pressure, lack of physical activity and elevated levels of cholesterol are a few contributing factors of CVD.

Suicides and Motor vehicle Accidents:
Suicide is classified under intentional injury. According to Public health and Preventive medicine in Canada “suicide has accounted for about 2% of all deaths in Canada annually since the late 1970s” (Shah, 1998, p. 185). Guns and explosives are the most common means of suicide in males, while poisoning is the main cause of suicide death among females. People with AIDS, homeless people, and those with mental illnesses (e.g. schizophrenia) are at high risk for committing suicide.

Motor vehicle accidents, conversely, are categorized as non-intentional injuries. Motor related deaths are highest in the 15-24 year age group, and driving while intoxicated is a major factor in collisions. Not using a seat belt and negligent behaviour regarding traffic rules and regulations are further factors contributing to fatal accidents.

AIDS stands for Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome and HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. According to the Canadian-health-Network (1999) HIV is the virus that causes AIDS by passing from one individual to another through bodily fluid exchange. Blood, semen, vaginal fluid, breast milk and other body fluids containing blood are known to spread the HIV virus. A baby born to an infected mother can also have HIV infection which later in life can develop into the full blown fatal disease AIDS. One thing to remember is that HIV is not contagious – you can not spread this disease simply by shaking hands or sneezing. Intravenous drug users, and anyone who has unprotected sex are the people who are at greatest risk for acquiring this disease (CDC, 2002).

“Up to December 1997, laboratory reports estimate that 41,680 people tested positive for HIV. Each year in Canada, there are an estimated 3,000 to 5,000 new infections” (Canadian-Health-Network, 1999)

Clearly the state of Canadian health can be improved, and the new focus on prevention may accomplish this. The more we learn about the causes of disease, and the interaction between humans and their environment, the more effective these prevention strategies will become.


Canadian Health Network (1999). AIDS In Canada FAQ. Available online at:

CDC (2002). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Divisions of HIV/AIDS Prevention. Available Online at:

Chandrakant P.Shah (1998). Public Health and Preventive Medicine in Canada. University of Toronto Press: Toronto.

Health Canada Population Health (2003). Population Health. Available online at:

Health Canada Determinants (2003). What Determines Health. Available online at:

Heath Canada Second Report (1999). Toward a Healthy Future – Second Report on the Health of Canadians. Available online at:

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