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Good news, bad news

Paul Bickford
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Dec 19/05) - Many NWT residents are still not making healthy lifestyle choices.

That's the essential finding of the Northwest Territories Health Status Report 2005 - over 100 pages of facts and figures released last month by the GNWT.

Health Highlights

  • The incidence of tuberculosis declined significantly since the mid-1990s from 7.6 new cases per 10,000 person-years in 1994/96 to 1.9 per 10,000 in 2001/2003.
  • The prevalence of diabetes increased significantly between 1997/98 and 2001/02 from 2.5 per cent of the population 20 years of age and older to 3.6 per cent.
  • The incidence of cancer did not change substantially between 1992 and 2002. Colorectal cancer was most common for men, while breast cancer was most common for women.
  • Between 2000 and 2002, the leading causes of death were cancers (25 per cent), cardiovascular diseases (22 per cent) and injuries (19 per cent).
  • In 2004, an estimated 41 per cent of NWT residents aged 15 and older smoked cigarettes. That was twice the national average of 20 per cent.

"What emerges is a picture of a population that has experienced improvements in a number of areas, deterioration in others, but overall little change in most health indicators during the past 10 to 15 years," wrote Health and Social Services minister Michael Miltenberger in the report's preface. "Evidence suggests that a large number of NWT residents are still at risk due to making unhealthy lifestyle choices."

Those poor choices include smoking, drinking alcohol, using illegal drugs, eating unhealthy foods and not exercising. Miltenberger says changing attitudes and behaviour is going to take time and is difficult, but adds, "We can't give up."

On the bright side, he notes the NWT is on the verge of eradicating tuberculosis and life expectancy is improving.

The minister says, if he could make one change in the NWT, it would be to get rid of alcohol abuse, noting it has negative impacts in numerous areas of society.

Dr. Andre Corriveau, the NWT's chief medical health officer, says the report will help shape priorities for coming years. The first such report in 1999 helped focus the GNWT on smoking. "It shaped our strategy."

While he says it is too early to know the ultimate impact of the Tobacco Action Plan, he notes, "At least we've arrested the growth of smoking in our population."

The doctor says another positive sign in this year's report is the improving tuberculosis rate. However, Corriveau notes the report points out several areas of concern.

"One is the continuing rise of sexually transmitted diseases," he says, adding, "It means people are not heeding the messages around safe sexuality."

The two most common sexually transmitted diseases are chlamydia and gonorrhea.

However, Corriveau notes the number of HIV/AIDS cases is still low. Between 1987 and 2003, there were 25 cases of HIV/AIDS reported in the NWT. For Corriveau, the main area of concern is an overweight population, explaining that contributes to numerous health problems such as diabetes and heart disease.

"The big trend is the rapid increase in obesity and lack of physical activity," he says, noting the NWT used to have a much more physically active population.