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Health inequity, poverty and aboriginal health

Rhona Hanning with grad students

Rhona Hanning (centre) and her team are working to improve food security and nutrition among Canada's First Nations.

Opportunities for health differ by income, education, cultural background, gender, sexual orientation, urban/rural status, and other variables. Poverty is robbing Canadians of their health and leading to widespread preventable illness and creating huge cost for the health care system. High income does not guarantee good health, but low income almost inevitably ensures poor health and significant health inequity in Canada.

Aboriginal people have a health status that is well below the national average. Their socio-economic conditions are often cited as being similar to those in developing countries. Many of Canada’s Inuit peoples, Metis and First Nations live in overcrowded, mold infested homes without running hot water or flushing toilets; twenty five per cent of children live in poverty and high school graduation rates are half of what they are for other Canadians. 

Internationally, life expectancy for people in some countries is 30 years more than other nations. The causes of inequalities are systemic and cannot be solely attributed to biology, access to health care, or differences in health behaviours.

Research in action

Marty Cooke uses his background in sociology and demography to improve our understanding of the health of Aboriginals, ways to reduce childhood obesity among First Nations children, and the effects of social inequality on health.   

John Garcia is conducting research to improve the health and health system capacity serving Canada’s Inuit people.

Rhona Hanning’s work is improving food security and nutrition among Canada’s First Nations, particularly children.

Laurie Hoffman Goetz uses her expertise in health communication to understand how mass media influences health, and to enhance peoples’ ability to access health information and understand risks, especially those with low literacy skills

Socio-economic factors such as income, education, and social cohesion account for 50% of the population’s health outcomes, double the influence of the healthcare system.

Canadian Senate Subcommittee on Population Health, 2009

Canada ranks 8th (of 174 nations) in the UN Human Development Index.  First Nations in Canada have a status similar to the 68th best country.

Martin Cooke