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Canada’s Global Health Ranking

More than just numbers

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When we talk about the health of a nation, it’s easy to get tied up in knots over statistics and rankings. But what does it really mean to be “healthy”? This question leads us into the complex world where health is not just a quantifiable phenomenon but a multifaceted construct that varies from one individual to another and from one culture to another.

Exploring how Canada ranks in terms of health compared to other countries is of great interest, but it’s also worth delving into the unique ways in which health is defined and understood, at a population—and an individual—level.

Canada is often seen as a beacon of health, with its universal health care system and high levels of self-reported quality of life. But is it really that simple? The answer, as you might expect, is no. Health, as a concept, is like a kaleidoscope, changing its form and colour depending on who’s looking.

Health experts at BC-based Lighthouse Dental Centre gathered data from government websites on a variety of factors, including atmospheric emissions, access to health care, and rates of cancer, obesity, and other conditions to come up with a score out of 100 to rank the health of Canada’s provinces and territories.

Diving into the heart of the matter: how does Canada actually rank? According to the World Health Organization and other global health bodies, Canada consistently scores high on various health metrics, such as life expectancy, low infant mortality rates, and a generally high level of physical and mental well-being among its citizens. However, these statistics only tell part of the story.

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Social determinants

The twist is that health is often as much a social construct as it is an individual one. In Canada, as in many other countries, social determinants such as income, education, employment, community, and social support networks play a crucial role in shaping one’s health.

For example, health outcomes in affluent provinces such as Ontario and British Columbia can significantly differ from those in less wealthy regions such as Nunavut or Newfoundland and Labrador.

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Personal perspectives

To further complicate this, there are the intangible aspects of health, such as your outlook or perspective on your own health. For instance, some Canadians may view living with a chronic condition as life-altering and negative, reporting low levels of quality of life, whereas some may take this in stride and live a happy and fulfilling life despite living with a chronic condition.

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A more holistic approach to health care

Throughout Canada, there’s a growing awareness that health is not just about preventing or treating illness but about fostering overall well-being. This includes mental health, a topic that has gained much-needed attention in recent years. Canadian provinces are increasingly focusing on holistic approaches to health, integrating mental health care into the broader health care system.

Bearing in mind the important links between physical and mental health, it may be possible to foster more positive physical health outcomes, or at least a mindset that fosters resilience in the face of these challenges.

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Our own health journey

At the individual level, it’s crucial to recognize that everyone has their own definition of what it means to be healthy. For some, it’s the ability to run a marathon or climb a mountain. For others, it’s about mental clarity, emotional stability, or simply being free from chronic pain.

This personalized approach to health is empowering. It allows individuals to take control of their well-being, tailoring their lifestyle, diet, and health care to suit their unique needs and goals. In Canada, this is reflected in the growing popularity of personalized medicine, wellness programs, and a broader understanding of health that goes beyond the physical and expands into mental health.

While Canada ranks highly in many health metrics, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Health is a deeply personal and ever-evolving concept, influenced by a myriad of social, cultural, and individual factors. As we navigate this landscape, it’s essential to remember that health is what we define it to be. Whether you’re in the bustling streets of Toronto or the serene landscapes of the Yukon, your health journey is uniquely yours, and that’s what truly matters.

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Healthy living: It’s the small steps that count

No matter where you live, your environment undoubtedly influences your overall health. But here’s an empowering truth: there are numerous steps you can take to enhance your well-being, irrespective of your location.

The key is to remember that consistent, small efforts often yield more significant results than striving for perfection in a single instance. This approach is applicable to various aspects of health, including physical activity, meditation, diet, and more. It’s about building habits, one step at a time.

Whether it’s a short daily walk, a few minutes of mindfulness in the morning, or adding an extra serving of vegetables to your meals, each small action contributes to a healthier, happier you. Remember, doing something consistently, no matter how small, is always better than doing nothing.

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Mental health status

In 2022, 47.7 percent of Canadians reported excellent or very good mental health, according to Statistics Canada.

 

This article was originally published in the April 2024 issue of alive magazine.

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