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More obesity, smoking in North

Alex Glancy
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Dec 24/04) - A report comparing the health and care of NWT residents to the rest of Canada show the territory has some work to do.

Recently released by the Department of Health and Social Services, the second part of a commitment by Canada's political leaders to report back to Canadians on their health care system provides a factual basis for future policy, according to health minister Michael Miltenberger.

For instance, it's finding that non-smoking Northerners are more often exposed to second-hand smoke than other Canadians. This lends weight to proposed GNWT legislation banning smoking in public places.

"It's going to give us the legislative base for all the communities to make a very clear statement in terms of tobacco: controlling the use, where it's used, (and) how it's sold," said the minister.

"It's a political statement, it's a moral statement, it's a health statement," he added.

The report also states that NWT teenagers smoke at twice the rate of other Canadian teens - 31 per cent versus 15 per cent.

In addition to the high smoking rates, the NWT has a higher rate of obesity - 22 per cent versus 15 per cent in the rest of Canada. And yet the territory's levels of heart disease and heart attack - for which smoking and obesity are risk factors - are lower by almost half.

According to chief medical officer Dr. Andre Corriveau, however, that won't last.

He explained that Northerners lived more actively and traditionally for a longer time, and were behind southern Canadians in adopting a sedentary lifestyle and unhealthy diets. Now the North is catching up. Miltenberger also noted diabetes rates, while still lower in the North, will grow due to risk factors like obesity and inactivity.

"The dialysis unit at Stanton is over capacity," Miltenberger said.

"We're starting dialysis in (Fort) Smith, and if the numbers there are on the rise we're going to end up putting dialysis services into Hay River, probably into Inuvik and into (Fort) Simpson," said the minister, adding "that's all because we're starting to see the result of all those (risk factors)."

High hospitalization rates

One key finding of the report is Northerners are three times more likely to be hospitalized for conditions where overnight stays can usually be avoided.

As Corriveau explained, this is partly due to the nature of the NWT's health system.

Because of geography, it's difficult not to hospitalize people for longer than you would in the south, said Corriveau.

Lower health standards and the lack of home care in some communities make it unwise to return patients home too early.

"The practice has evolved much faster in larger centres in terms of doing day surgery and sending people back home right away," he said.

Lots of

alcohol-related cases

Miltenberger added another reason for the numerous hospitalizations are the importance of addictions and related mental health issues.

With no psychiatric facility and only one addictions treatment centre - combined with the fact a majority of ambulatory hospitalizations are alcohol related - as well as an NWT consumption rate "two to three times the national average," hospitalization happens quite regularly, Miltenberger said.