Health gap between Saskatchewan's rich and the poor persists

A newly released study says little progress has been made in closing the health gap between the wealthy and the poor in Saskatchewan.

Obesity gap between low- and high-income women in province largest in Canada, study shows

A Canadian Institute for Health Information study reveals that obesity rates among low-income women in Saskatchewan have increased by over 55 per cent over since 2003. (CBC)

Little progress has been made in closing the health gap between the wealthy and the poor over the past decade in Saskatchewan, a newly released study by the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) concludes.

Among several health indicators, the study revealed that obesity rates among low-income women in Saskatchewan have increased by over 55 per cent over since 2003, while the obesity rates for the top wealthiest women have declined slightly.

For men, obesity rates in the province are relatively uniform across income levels and have remained relatively stable over time.

"For obesity, at the national level we only see differences between the higher- and lower-income groups among women and in Saskatchewan, we do see that difference has increased over time," said Erin Pichora, program lead for the CIHI study.

The findings also revealed that more so than anywhere in the country, Saskatchewan's low-income residents are being hospitalized for alcohol-related incidents, and the gap between the number of such incidents for low- and high-income residents is growing. 

Those in the lower-income group were nearly three and a half times more likely to be hospitalized for alcohol-related issues than the top 20 per cent of earners, data shows.

The study found that 377 low-income residents per 100,000 were hospitalized because of alcohol in 2012 — a figure that is more than double the national average of 161 per 100,000 population. 

Health inequality unchanged

Canada-wide, the gap between the rich and the poor did not change in 11 of the 16 of the health indicators studied — such as obesity, smoking habits and mental illness. In the case of hospitalization due to mental illness, the income-related health gap improved, but not for the reasons health officials would hope.

"When we did see a narrowing of the gap, it was for the wrong reason. The rates were worsening among the higher income groups, there was a levelling down, as opposed to an improvement in the lower-income group," explains Pichora. 

"When you start to break it down by indicators, you might see some provinces having larger inequalities than Canada as a whole, but overall we didn't see one province stand out," she said.

CIHI says that provinces should pay close attention to the health disparity between income groups, if it hopes to reduce costs and improve the health of it's a large segment of it's communities. 

"There needs to be a balance struck between universal and targeted programs. Certainly you need the universal programs to provide a safety net," Pichora said. "As well, you need targeted programs to address health issues that are arising primarily in certain populations."


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