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Tipping the Scales of Progress: Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada releases new data and recommendations on tobacco, obesity and disease prevention

Tipping the Scales of ProgressOttawa: June 5, 2006

The Heart and Stroke Foundation today released new projections on tobacco use and obesity in Canada, along with policy recommendations to reduce heart disease and stroke aimed at governments. The report is called Tipping the Scales of Progress: Heart Disease and Stroke in Canada 2006.

Key highlights of the report include:

  • an overall reduction of 53% in age standardized cardiovascular mortality (1979-2003)
  • new projections on future smoking and obesity rates – some trends will hold, others will not
  • significant gaps and inadequacies in Canadian health data
  • alarming increases in overweight and obesity, particularly among children
  • significant declines in smoking rates, placing Canada as a world leader in tobacco control
  • much higher prevalence of cardiovascular risk among lower income and First Nations populations

“We’ve certainly made substantial progress in the fight against heart disease and stroke, including risk factors like tobacco consumption, but winning the fight does not mean winning the war – we cannot let our guard down,” says Dr. Andreas Wielgosz, a Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada (HSFC) Board member and editor of the report. “Cardiovascular disease continues to be the leading cause of death in Canada, and places an enormous burden on individuals, families, and the health care system.”

The report makes specific Heart&Stroke policy recommendations in three key areas: tobacco control, obesity and disease prevention, and strengthening the health evidence base.

“It shows how far we’ve come in the 50 years since the HSFC was founded, but also reminds us how much work there is left to do to improve the health of Canadians,” says Sally Brown, CEO of the HSFC

While the Foundation has previously released statistical reports, this is the first edition that combines data and projections with policy recommendations for governments.

“We felt it was really important to close the loop – to provide this information to decision makers, and make recommendations on how to use it and actions we can take to improve our chances against heart disease, stroke and other illnesses,” says Dr. Wielgosz.

The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada recommends that:

Tobacco control

Governments in Canada continue to develop, implement and enforce comprehensive tobacco control strategies, including:

  • comprehensive smoking bans in all workplaces and public places;.
  • increased taxation on tobacco products.
  • prohibition of tobacco product "point of sale" advertising and promotion.
  • elimination of deceptive labeling e.g., "light" and "mild".

Obesity and chronic disease prevention

SCHOOLS: Governments and school boards:

  • require one hour per day of structured physical activity for elementary and secondary school students.
  • remove unhealthy or "junk" food in school-site vending machines.
  • improve healthy food choices in schools, including cafeterias.

TAX INCENTIVES: Governments:

  • remove sales taxes from restaurant foods that are ‘healthy’
  • remove sales taxes from ‘healthy’ food products such as single servings of bottled water, pre-packaged salads and fruit trays in retail stores.
  • tax ‘unhealthy’ foods, but only in combination with tax incentives.
  • remove sales taxes from sports and recreation equipment, such as bicycles, skates etc.
  • provide tax breaks to individuals for the purchase of public transit passes.
  • treat transit passes provided by companies to their employees as a non-taxable benefit.
  • provide tax credits/breaks for enhancing physical activity such as the purchase of gym memberships, fitness classes etc.

CHRONIC DISEASE PREVENTION: The federal government:

  • implement and adequately fund a coordinated strategy to address common chronic disease risk factors.

SOCIAL DETERMINANTS OF HEALTH: Governments:

  • address socioeconomic factors, such as poverty, and other determinants of health that place communities at high risk for cardiovascular disease.
  • allocate at least 7% of transportation-related infrastructure funds toward the development of community infrastructure that promotes the use of active modes of transportation e.g., bicycle trails/paths, walking trails/paths and sidewalks.
  • ensure that social infrastructure that supports physical activity e.g., parks and community and recreation centers are included in the gas tax transfer program.
  • enhance investments in public transit and infrastructure that promote physical activity.
  • encourage mixed use developments that enable people to walk or bike to a variety of shops and services in their neighbourhoods.

STRENGTHENING THE EVIDENCE-BASE: The federal government should:

  • develop a comprehensive, long-term non-communicable diseases surveillance system that includes cardiovascular diseases.
  • repeat the upcoming Canadian health measures survey at regular intervals to provide trend data based on physical measures.
  • work with the Foundation and the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) to develop a national cardiac arrest registry.
  • invest in a Canadian longitudinal, lifelong cohort study, which includes a birth cohort and an aging cohort.
  • reduce the time lag from collection to reporting of economic burden of illness data to a maximum of two years; break down economic burden cost data by specific CVD subcategories and by major cardiovascular risk factors; refine economic burden costing methods in order to keep "unattributable" costs low.
  • lead in the development of enhanced surveillance of primary cardiovascular care and hospitalized care that can track individuals across inter-provincial jurisdictions, making such data available on a routine basis, in collaboration with the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) and the provinces.

“There is a lot we can do in critical areas, like protecting the health of our children and working with communities in which the burden of heart disease and stroke, and related diseases, is heavier, “says Dr. Wielgosz. “We’ve developed this list of recommendations to prod decision makers to act now, so we can preserve the health gains we’ve made and ward off the problems that lie ahead.”

The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada acknowledges the support of Health Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada, Statistics Canada, and the Canadian Institute for Health Information, in the production of this report. The policy recommendations noted above are solely those of the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, and should not be attributed to these agencies.

Click on the full report here.

For more information or to book an interview, please contact:

Jane-Diane Fraser
613-569-4361, ext 273
jfraser@hsf.ca