Toronto's poorest die earlier, suffer more health problems: report

People living in the poorest areas of Toronto also have the worst health, including higher rates of lung cancer and sexually transmitted infections, the city's medical officer of health says.

More lung cancer, gonorrhoea found among city's least well-off

People living in the poorest areas of Toronto also have the worst health, including higher rates of lung cancer and sexually transmitted infections compared with the wealthiest residents, the city's medical officer of health says in new report released Wednesday.

The report, titled "The Unequal City," looked at the relationship between income and health.

Researchers found that when compared with those living in high-income areas:

  • Lung cancer incidence was 1.5 times higher for males in the lowest-income areas.
  • The gonorrhea rate among female youth was 3.5 times higher.
  • The percentage of female adults whose last visit to the dentist was three years ago was over four times greater in the lowest income areas.

Men in the city's wealthiest neighbourhoods were expected to live 4.5 years longer than those in the poorest parts. For women, the difference was two years.

"We're seeing a bigger portion of the population who are living on low income, and the middle-income group is shrinking," said Dr. David McKeown, Toronto's chief medical officer of health, who presented the report to the city's board of health.

"If those trends continue with the inequalities the report documents, then we're looking at an overall decline in the health of the population."

To show the impact of the inequalities, the study's authors calculated that if everyone was as healthy as the richest Torontonians and in the best health, there would be:

  • Nearly 1,100, or 18 per cent, fewer premature deaths.
  • 1,300, or 20 per cent, fewer low-birth-weight babies.
  • About 1,600, or 30 per cent, more children ready to learn at school.
  • Nearly 1,000, or 46 per cent fewer teen pregnancies.
  • Almost 30,000, or about 13 per cent, fewer male smokers.

The study's authors also found more evidence that poor people usually can't afford nutritious foods.

Leafy greens too expensive for breast cancer survivor

Connie Harrison of St. Jamestown, one of the city's most diverse, densely populated and poorest neighbourhoods, said she has a rough time trying to eat healthfully while surviving breast cancer.

Harrison, who is half aboriginal, was told to eat broccoli, kale and flax but said she can't always afford to eat those kinds of healthy foods.

"These little things like cigarettes and chips, they're what eases the everyday life," Harrison said. "Everybody says, 'Don't do it,' but what else is there around here? There's very little to do, there's no money to do it with."

On a more positive note, the report found that health improved for most indicators as incomes improved.

McKeown will share the report with the province, which has committed to reducing poverty as a public health measure.

The report builds on international, national and local reports that have reached similar conclusions. 

In August, the World Health Organization said people are dying early not only because of health gaps between rich and poor countries but also because of a lack of housing in wealthy countries like Canada.