May 11, 2013


adults in the air
“… where all the women are strong,
all the men are good looking, and
all the children are above average."
— Garrison Keillor,
Lake Wobegon

We like to think we’re better than than the rest but we can’t all be above average.

You’ll find lots of health statistics from Statistics Canada. In 2011, here are examples of “the 80/20 rule” in action, where the 80% is good:
  • 19.9% smoke
  • 19.0% are heavy drinkers
  • 17.6% have high blood pressure
  • 20.4% of youth age 12-17 are overweight or obese
Other parts aren’t as reassuring. For instance, 52.1% of adults are overweight or obese. Yet when asked in 2011, 61.6% of Canadians perceive themselves as having very good or excellent health (61.9% for males and 61.3% for females). Aren’t they looking in the mirror?

Explain This

Let’s look at a more dramatic comparison: hypertension. Here 13.8% of Canadians report having the condition but 19.6% are under a doctor’s care. I could see more people having a problem than getting treatment but the opposite is taking place here. You’d know if you’re getting medical treatment. Yet there’s a reluctance to report the facts.

(2007 data) Self-reported (Health Trends, Canada) Under Doctor’s Care (Canadian Chronic Disease Surveillance System)
Hypertension 13.8% 19.6%

I’m reminded of Monty Python’s Dead Parrot skit. Who’s fooling who?

Reality Check

When you apply for life or health insurance, you undergo underwriting. The premiums you pay are not determined by how healthy you think you are. You might face a surcharge or even get declined coverage. This may be a shock.

An easy way to stay in denial is to not apply. Maybe that’s a reason why life changing events no longer trigger insurance purchases. Besides, we don’t think we’ll have a claim anyway.

What To Do

If your health is rated worse than you expected, you have the opportunity to improve. Sometimes underwriting uncovers problems your doctor wouldn’t catch during your regular medical examinations. Depending on the condition, you may be able to get treatment sooner, while there’s more time and less damage. Hospitals are best avoided.

Medical Misadventures

Medical misadventures occur in hospitals around the world. Examples include
  • accidental cuts
  • gauze left in the body during surgery
  • lack of sterilization
  • wrong amount or drugs or radiation
The consequences are extended hospital stays, disability or death.

These findings are from a 2009 report by the Conference Board of Canada. Canada ranks 7th out of 15 peer countries. About 158,000 Canadians admitted to an acute care hospital in a year (7%) suffer from a medical misadventure — about 60,000 (38%) are preventable.

As a consequence, about 150 Canadians die each year (compared with 33,000 annual deaths in the US). The graph shows the trends in both countries.
deaths by medical misadventure: Canada vs US (click to enlarge)
We want to be healthy. We see ourselves as healthy. Let’s takes steps to be healthy.


Podcast 219

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PS When are you exercising next?

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