Study links women's wealth with longevity
Wealth buys better health and a longer life in BC
A comprehensive new report on the status of women's health in the province shows that women have gained an additional 3.2 years of life expectancy since 1990, but there are significant disparities based on income.
Dr. Perry Kendall, B.C.'s provincial health officer, said, "If you are in the top 20 per cent of income, you have 9.5 more years of healthy life expectancy."
Kendall released the report Friday. It looks at the overall health of women from infancy to old age, based on data collected in 2008. Women's health is improving over-all, with advances in life expectancy and decreases in teen pregnancy, but low-income, aboriginal and immigrant women fare much worse.
The data shows a difference in life expectancy for B.C. women at age 25 of 4.6 years between the richest and poorest group of women.
"The better diet your mother had, the better diet you had as a child, the better care and attention, the better the long-term outcome," said Kendall.
Overall, life expectancy for B.C. women is 83.6 years. It ranges from a high of 85.2 years in the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority region to a low of 81.2 years in the Northern Health Authority area - a difference attributed to socio-economic and education factors.
The data also shows women with mental illness face serious challenges. Schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression have a significant effect on mortality rates. For example, in women aged 30-34, those with schizophrenia had a mortality rate more than eight times higher than women the same age without the condition. Kendall said: "Our health system is not yet able to manage women that are as marginalized as that."
According to the report, HIV rates for women dropped between 2000 and 2009, from 4.1 per 100,000 to 3.2 per 100,000, while rates for chlamydia and gonorrhea have both increased. The report says chlamydia rates increased 47.9 per cent between 2000 and 2009.
The pregnancy rate for teens has dropped by nearly half from a high of 32.9 per 1,000 in 1994 to 18.3 per 1,000 in 2007, and abortion rates have come down as well, but Kendall said B.C. could be doing better on behalf of the province's women when it comes to contraception.
"B.C. still rates second-highest [nationwide] in rates of abortion among non-teenage women." Kendall said better sexual health education in schools and greater access to contraception is needed.
Other areas of concern include a jump in the rate of tranquillizers and sleeping medication prescriptions among women: 13 per cent of women overall were prescribed anti-anxiety medication in 1998; the number is now 17 per cent.
Even more alarming are the rates among seniors. "One in three women over 65 is on anti-anxiety medication," said Kendall.
The study shows that B.C.'s caesarean rate is one of the highest in Canada at 29.9 per cent and close to 20 per cent of women of child-bearing age do not have a regular medical doctor. Midwife deliveries more than doubled between 2000-01 and 2007-08.
In terms of education, things are looking up for B.C. girls. Girls achieved higher grades than boys in the three different streams of Grade 10 mathematics classes and girls scored higher than boys in all science classes in grades 10 and 12.
Although women now outnumber men in post-secondary institutions, women's work is still focused on service industries such as health care, finance, insurance and education. Twenty per cent of B.C.'s mayors were women in 2008, while women made up 31 per cent of the doctors and 35 per cent of the lawyers in the province.
"We now know that we can improve things even more for women if we focus on areas of under-privilege, income insecurity and mental health. Those are areas where we can make a difference," said Kendall.
The report, The Health and Well-Being of Women in British Columbia, is available online at www.health.gov.bc.ca/pho/reports.