Poor socio-economic conditions in Canada's territories contribute to low grades on health report card

OTTAWA, Feb. 12, 2015 /CNW/ - Canada's territories all score "D-" grades in The Conference Board of Canada's How Canada Performs: Health report card. This is the first report card to compare Canada, the 10 provinces, three territories, and 15 peer countries.

"The territories do poorly on most health indicators. However, it's important to keep in mind that socio-economic factors, such as poverty, infrastructure, cost of living, education, and housing, have a huge impact on the health of the population," said Gabriela Prada, Director, Health Innovation, Policy and Evaluation.

"In order to address the poor health outcomes in the territories, efforts must be made to improve socio-economic conditions. This will require tailored approaches that are inclusive of Aboriginal traditional knowledge, building on strengths that reinforce the sense of community."


  • Yukon, Nunavut and the Northwest Territories receive "D-" grades on the health report card.
  • The reasons are complex but, fundamentally, improving health outcomes in the territories requires that poor socio-economic conditions be addressed.
  • In particular, this must include programs that help Aboriginal youth find purpose, build self-esteem, and assume leadership responsibilities in their communities.


The How Canada Performs: Health report card assesses performance on 11 health status indicators.


Nunavut ranks last among the 29 comparator jurisdictions. It receives "D-" grades on six indicators: life expectancy, premature mortality, infant mortality, suicides, mortality due to cancer, and mortality due to respiratory diseases. Nunavut's "D" on self-reported mental health is not surprising given its high suicide rate.

On the flip side, Nunavut scores an "A+" on mortality due to diabetes and "A"s on mortality due to nervous system diseases, and heart disease and stroke. Given the low life expectancy and high premature mortality rate in Nunavut, its "A"s on these indicators likely reflect the fact that the majority of the population does not live long enough to suffer from diseases that arise later in life.  Nunavut's life expectancy at birth is only 71.8 years—almost 10 years lower than the national average of 81.5 years.

Northwest Territories

The Northwest Territories places 28th and receives "D-" grades on four indicators: life expectancy, premature mortality, infant mortality, and mortality due to cancer. The territory also has one of the highest mortality rates due to respiratory diseases, and scores a "D" on this indicator. N.W.T. earns "C" grades on suicides and mortality due to heart disease and stroke. The territory's best performance is on self-reported health, a measure of how people feel about their own health. N.W.T. scores an "A+" on this indicator and is the top-ranked overall.

Like Nunavut, N.W.T. also earns high grades on mortality due to nervous system diseases and diabetes, earning "A"s on both indicators. As it is the case in Nunavut, the strong performance on these two indicators likely reflects the fact that deaths from these diseases typically occur later in life—and in a region like N.W.T., which has a low life expectancy and high premature mortality rate, people are dying prematurely of other diseases.


Yukon sits third from the bottom overall and has more balanced rankings on the health indicators than the other two territories. The territory earns fewer "A"s than N.W.T. and Nunavut, but it also earns fewer "D-"s. Similar to the other provinces and territories, Yukon receives an "A" on self-reported health, but also scores an "A" for having one of the lowest suicide rates in the country. Yukon's scores "B"s on mortality due to heart disease and stroke, mortality due to nervous system diseases, and self-reported mental health. Yukon earns a "D-" on mortality due to diabetes, with the highest mortality rate among all the comparator regions. The territory also gets "D-" grades on life expectancy and on mortality due to cancer. It scores "C"s on two indicators: premature mortality and infant mortality.

Socio-economic status affects lifestyle choices which, in turn, affect health outcomes. The territories fare poorly on many lifestyle-related risk factors, particularly Nunavut. Obesity rates and smoking rates are well above the Canadian average in all three territories, while fruit and vegetable consumption is significantly below the Canadian average. This is partially explained by the high cost of healthy food in the territories compared with the Canadian average. Difficulties in accessing affordable fruits and vegetables places the residents of the territories at a higher risk of developing a chronic disease.

How Canada Performs is an ongoing research program at The Conference Board of Canada to help leaders identify relative strengths and weaknesses in Canada's socio-economic performance. Six performance domains are assessed: Economy, Education and Skills, Innovation, Environment, Health, and Society.

Released today, and building on previous How Canada Performs analyses, the Health report card is the third of six to be produced on Canadian and provincial socio-economic performance. The Economy and Education and Skills report cards were published in 2014. The remaining report cards will follow over the year.

This is the first year that provincial and territorial rankings are included in the report cards. Further details, including information on data sources and the methodology behind the rankings, can be found on the How Canada Performs website.

Watch a video commentary by Gabriela Prada, Director, Health Innovation, Policy and Evaluation.

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SOURCE Conference Board of Canada

For further information: Juline Ranger, Associate Director of Communications, The Conference Board of Canada, Tel.: 613- 526-3090 ext. 431, E-mail: corpcomm@conferenceboard.ca; or Yvonne Squires, Media Relations, The Conference Board of Canada, Tel.: 613- 526-3090 ext. 221, E-mail: corpcomm@conferenceboard.ca

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