A new study puts the annual economic burden of smoking, excess weight and physical inactivity in British Columbia at $5.6 billion and says residents of some parts of the province are more to blame than others.
The study estimates the province could save about one quarter of that amount ($1.4 billion) by reducing the prevalence rates of these three risk factors to rates achieved by the healthiest regions of the province.
Rates of smoking, overweight and inactivity vary greatly across B.C., with some regions like the Northwest producing a per capita economic burden twice that found in the less costly regions such as Richmond.
“There are notable disparities in the prevalence of each risk factor across health regions within B.C., which were mirrored in each region’s attributable economic burden,” say the study’s authors, led by Hans Krueger from the School of Population and Public Health at the University of British Columbia. “A variety of social, environmental and economic factors likely drive some of this geographical variation and these underlying factors should be considered when developing prevention programs.”
B.C.’s rates of smoking, overweight and inactivity are all tops in comparison with other provinces across the country, yet the regional disparity across the province’s 16 health service delivery areas (HSDAs) is a cause for concern. The prevalence of physical inactivity, for example, varies from a low of 27.1 per cent in the Kootenay Boundary HSDA to a high of 43.8 per cent in the Fraser North HSDA while the prevalence of tobacco smoking varies from 8.8 per cent in the Richmond HSDA to 21.3 per cent in the Northeast HSDA. The prevalence of excess weight turned out to be lowest in the Vancouver HSDA at 29.5 per cent and highest again in the Northwest HSDA at 56.7 per cent.
Researchers based their estimates on data taken from the 2011/12 Canadian Community Health Survey to model direct costs such as hospital care, physician services and drugs as well as indirect costs associated with premature mortality and short and long-term disability. They concluded that if all the HSDAs were to lower their prevalence rates of smoking, overweight and physical inactivity to the levels found in the healthiest regions of the province, the overall economic burden would be reduced by $1.4 billion annually.
“Rates of tobacco smoking have decreased dramatically in recent decades, and this progress should reinforce that similar successes are also possible for other modifiable risk factors,” say the authors who nonetheless concede that lowering the economic burden of health risks is a complex and complicated endeavor, linked as it is with a variety of social and environmental factors, some of which are difficult to modify.
“The economic evidence we present also suggests that various regions within B.C. demand specific attention. In particular, the geographical variations between health authorities and HSDAs may act as a guideline for where region-specific prevention efforts may be most valuable,” say the authors.
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Smoking, excess weight and physical inactivity across the country combined for an annual economic burden of $52.8 billion for 2013, with per capita costs varying from a low of $1,249 in B.C. to a high of $1,932 in Newfoundland and Labrador.
The study was published in the journal Health Promotion and Chronic Disease Prevention in Canada.