The Canadian Medical Association says high poverty rates are leading to poor health across the Maritimes.

The national health organization held a town hall meeting in Charlottetown Thursday night asking people to share their stories about how their living conditions affect the health care they receive.

"Compared to the other OECD countries, Canadians actually rank second to last compared to the U.S. of all the other countries, with respect to the value spent on healthcare," said Dr. Anna Reid, president of the association.

Reid said most Canadian provinces spend close to half their budget on healthcare. With an aging population, the burden will become greater.

She said Canada needs to invest in social programs to prevent poverty, which she cites as the underlying cause of poor health.

"The income gap is growing between the haves and the have-nots in this country. And we know that when you look at the difference in life expectancy and health between wealthy people and unwealthy people in our country, it can be as much as 30 years," she said.

Family physician Dr. Jenni Zelin said she sees this all the time at her practice on Prince Edward Island.

She says poverty is preventing many from buying healthy food.

"Unfortunately, P.E.I. has the highest rate of food insecurity in Canada outside of the territories and Nunavut. So it's something that really needs to be addressed with policy. And it's not something that doctors can just put a Band-Aid on or prescribe," she said.

Reid said things such as income, early childhood development, housing and food security have more to do with wellness than anything that falls within the health care system. She suggests all three levels of government build their policies around health.

"Whether it be transportation, housing, food security, and see what effect it would have on the health of Canadians," she said.

Canadian Medical Association is hosting town hall meetings in five Canadian cities. It said its goal is take health concerns from each region to the various levels of government.

The association will produce a report on the cross-country conversations and create toolkits for physicians.