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The Chief Public Health Officer’s Report on the State of Public Health in Canada, 2012

Influencing Health – The Importance of Sex and Gender

A Message from Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer

As a nation, we are healthy. Canada has secured significant health gains through routine immunization, smoking cessation programs, reducing and managing the incidence of infectious diseases, and investing in social infrastructure. These efforts underline why Canada is one of the best places in the world in which to live.

However, there are areas in which Canada can improve. We are seeing decreasing rates of physical activity, increasing rates of chronic diseases and obesity, and increasing rates of some sexually transmitted infections among Canadians. Canada also needs to recognize the importance of mental health and work towards improving mental health and well-being for Canadians. The good news is that all of these are manageable if we, as a society, create environments that support healthier ways of life and reduce risks to health.

We all have unique health concerns that need to be considered. Canadian men, women, boys and girls experience differences in health risks, access to and effectiveness of health services and programs, and overall health outcomes. Canada must take into account and respond to the differences, as well as the similarities, between citizens and avoid making generalizations in order to help secure the best possible health for all Canadians.

In this report, I have decided to explore the influence of sex (i.e. biological characteristics) and gender (i.e. socio-cultural factors) on public health and the health status of Canadians. I have also used this report to highlight key areas where I believe Canada has been effective in considering the role of sex and gender on health as well as where we may want to concentrate future efforts.

Attitudes, behaviours, motivations and lifestyles, in general and as they may relate to sex and gender, often expose Canadians to differences in risks and opportunities for health and wellness. It is not as simple as looking at the differences between women and men and girls and boys. It is about the pathways on which those differences develop; how we think about masculinity and femininity and how they intersect with other determinants to shape health and well-being; and how we consider sex and gender when we frame, plan for, implement and evaluate public health interventions.

The roles that sex and gender play in public health are relevant to everyone. We know being male or female affects our health across the lifecourse. Differences experienced by men, women, boys and girls (including individuals across the sex and gender continuums) can be attributed to biological diversity as well as the social roles and responsibilities assumed by each of us. It is clear that sex and gender are important determinants of health that interact with and affect all other determinants.

As a society we need to better understand how sex and gender interact with other determinants of health. Policy makers need to consider gender-based evidence when making decisions on programs and initiatives for more effective and efficient health outcomes. As well, people’s accounts of their experiences with public health in Canada can help illustrate why and how particular health issues affect some groups of people differently than others. This can help policy makers and planners develop programs and interventions that meet the needs of Canada’s diverse population, ensuring that we do not inadvertently overlook the needs of some groups within the population.

There is a wealth of experience and knowledge in Canada, and around the world, and there are opportunities for positive change. Throughout this report, there are many examples of what is working well and the differences we can make in the lives of Canadians. Collectively we can influence our health and create a better and healthier future for all Canadians.

Download The Chief Public Health Officer’s Report on the State of Public Health in Canada, 2012