Health Disparities in Canada Today: Some Evidence and a Theoretical Framework
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This paper documents contemporary evidence on patterns of health disparities in Canada and suggests theoretical mechanisms that give rise to these patterns. The overall health of Canadians, as measured by life expectancy or mortality, has improved dramatically over the past 30 years and some disparities have diminished slightly (e.g., life expectancy by income group for men), while others have increased (e.g., diabetes for Aboriginal peoples). Arguably the most egregious health disparities in Canada are those existing between Aboriginals and the rest of the Canadian population. This paper focuses specifically on three social determinants and their effects on disparities in health; Aboriginal status, income, and place. Overall we take the approach that disparities in health could be alleviated by reducing inequities in the distribution of these determinants. We further argue that these social determinants are proxies for opportunities, resources and constraints; all of which influence health outcomes. We suggest that policies focus on reducing the social inequities that lead to health disparities in Canada, rather than focusing on the disparities in health alone. Since the social determinants described here have been found to influence an array of disease outcomes, tackling them, rather than their outcomes, may have a greater overall influence on the health of the population.