Let’s make health matter during election campaign

 In Opinion

The provincial government plays an important role in shaping policies that affect all aspects of our lives, including our health.  

A key role of the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit is to work with partners and decision-makers to revise or create policies that take health into consideration.

During the provincial election campaign let’s make health matter by encouraging government actions on important public health issues to reduce preventable illness and death and improve overall health in Simcoe and Muskoka.

Political decisions have a significant impact on what are broadly known as the social determinants of health. Low income creates barriers to healthy foods, adequate housing and services such as dental care. Surveys in Simcoe Muskoka have shown that only about half of those with the lowest income feel their health is excellent or good, while 70 per cent of those in the highest income bracket report excellent or good health.

The province is currently engaged in a pilot project offering a guaranteed income in some communities. Public health advocates strongly support this initiative and recommend its continuation.

Providing for affordable housing and funding revitalization projects in lower income neighbourhoods will improve health and safety for those residents, and strengthen community connectedness that also contributes to well-being.

Public health impacts also arise from the policies and guidelines the province establishes around how our land is designated and developed. Community design and the preservation of agricultural land and green space can affect the availability of the food we eat, the amount of physical activity we get, the quality of the air we breathe, and our overall sense of well-being.

Other issues have emerged in recent years that are linked to policy. Public health is closely watching the outcomes of the provincial decision to relax alcohol sales laws, bringing beer into many grocery stores and farmers’ markets. In other provinces, there have been increases in alcohol-related accidents and violence resulting in freer access to alcohol. In Simcoe Muskoka, alcohol consumption levels were already above the provincial average before these changes. With the federal legalization of cannabis, there are great concerns about the harms that can come from overuse, use at too early an age, and use while driving or doing any complex tasks.

While great strides have been made in reducing the number of people addicted to tobacco products, it still remains the province’s number one cause of preventable death and chronic disease. Provincially, new strategies are required to help the population using tobacco to decline to less than five per cent in the next 15 years.

Such issues have a broad impact on the burden and costs of preventable illness and death across the province. The health unit has produced a fact sheet that highlights these issues and provides suggested actions the provincial government can take to improve the health of all Ontarians. This fact sheet, along with additional information and questions you can ask your local candidates, is posted at www.smdhu.org/election2018.

Dr. Charles Gardner is Simcoe Muskoka’s medical officer of health.

 

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