Health inequities put many Ontarians at higher risk of certain cancers – Cancer Care Ontario

April 04, 2018

Many Ontarians facing health inequities are more likely to get certain cancers and are less likely to survive them. A new report released today by Cancer Care Ontario states that comprehensive strategies across multiple sectors and levels of government are needed to reduce cancer risk factors in Ontarians facing health inequities and in the population as a whole.

Prevention System Quality Index: Health EquityOpens in a new window follows the 2016 Prevention System Quality IndexOpens in a new window report and focuses on four risk factors for cancer – tobacco use, alcohol consumption, unhealthy eating and physical inactivity – using a health equity perspective.

A major focus of the report is on First Nations, Inuit and Métis in Ontario, who have unique histories, but share the negative consequences of colonization, which has dramatically impacted all aspects of their health. First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities have higher rates of some cancer risk factors, rising rates of new cancer cases and poorer cancer survival than non-Aboriginal Ontarians.

“Addressing health inequities for many groups in Ontario is key to strengthening our efforts to prevent cancer,” said Dr. Linda Rabeneck, Vice-President, Prevention and Cancer Control, Cancer Care Ontario. “The Prevention System Quality Index: Health Equity report identifies areas where more work is needed to develop and improve policies and programs that reduce cancer risk factors for all Ontarians, especially for people facing health inequities.”

Key findings and opportunities:

  • Ontarians with low income or less education continue to smoke at much higher rates than the rest of the population and are more likely to be exposed to second-hand smoke.
    • Residents of multi-unit housing (e.g., apartment buildings) are more likely to be exposed to second-hand smoke than those who live in single detached homes. People living in social housing are particularly vulnerable. Of the 12 largest local housing corporations in Ontario, only five prohibit smoking in residential units for new leases. Policies prohibiting smoking in multi-unit housing should be considered, with a focus on social housing.
  • Ontario households with the lowest incomes are 19 times more likely to be food insecure than households with the highest incomes.
    • Poverty reduction policies have been shown to reduce household food insecurity in Canada. The Ontario government is encouraged to continue to develop and ensure implementation of the provincial Food Security Strategy. Continued implementation of the provincial government’s poverty reduction policies, including increasing minimum wage, increasing social assistance benefits and evaluating the impact of the basic income pilot project, can begin to address the serious problem of food insecurity.
  • First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities have higher smoking rates, and Inuit and Métis people are more likely to be exposed to second-hand smoke than non-Aboriginal Ontarians. First Nations, Inuit and Métis people are also much more likely to experience food insecurity than non-Aboriginal Ontarians.
    • Culturally relevant policies and programs that are developed together with First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities are required to reduce cancer risk factors and health inequities. Cancer Care Ontario’s Path to Prevention – Recommendations for Reducing Chronic Disease in First Nations, Inuit and Métis report makes recommendations for policies and programs that address the unique needs of First Nations, Inuit and Métis populations, and these are highlighted in the Prevention System Quality Index: Health Equity


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