Policy brief from Brock NCO and Niagara Region calls for novel approaches to improve health and prevent illness

A shared responsibility across different health, social, government, economic and education sectors is a key element to improving health outcomes, recommends a new Brock University — Niagara Region Public Health policy brief.

Each stage of life from infancy to old age has characteristic health challenges such as illnesses, accidents, and mental health issues says “The Future of Niagara’s Health: Using a Life-Course Approach to Improve Well-Being.”

But often these challenges are viewed — and treated — in isolation as they occur. The life-course approach focuses our attention on understanding the biggest health issues across the lifespan and considers how to reposition programs, policies and services to address these issues in order to have the largest impact on health and well-being, says the brief, produced by Brock’s Niagara Community Observatory (NCO) and release in a webinar Wednesday, May 2 hosted by Niagara Connects.

“The life-course perspective offers a new way of looking at health, not as disconnected stages unrelated to each other, but as an integrated continuum,” says co-author Sinéad McElhone, Manager of Surveillance and Evaluation, Niagara Region Public Health and adjunct faculty at Brock University.

For example, currently two-thirds of 45- to 64-year-olds in Niagara are overweight or obese.

As this condition is known to be associated with a multitude of chronic conditions such as diabetes, coronary heart disease and asthma, as well as knee replacements, the life-course perspective identifies times at which targeted interventions may be especially effective.

This would help reduce the burden on hospitals and clinics in the future, the brief outlines.

Drawing upon data from a wide variety of sources, the brief provides a detailed snapshot of the region’s overall health challenges as well as those in 11 age groups from birth to those 75 and older.

The Top 10 reasons why Niagara residents seek health services are cancer, diabetes, digestive system diseases and infections, circulatory system diseases, injuries, maternal/reproductive issues, mental health, poisonings, respiratory infections and diseases, and sexually transmitted infections.

Health challenges in the various age categories include:

  • Congenital abnormalities (birth defects) were the main cause of death in babies in their first year.
  • Sexually transmitted infections (STI) were most frequently reported for those aged 20 to 24 (especially females); this group had the highest number of STI cases in comparison to any other age group.
  • Most EMS transports for those aged 25 to 44 years were in relation to musculoskeletal and soft tissue pain and gastro-intestinal problems.
  • Hepatitis C was prevalent across many age groups (especially in males) and is the most common reportable infectious disease in Niagara residents aged 45 to 64.
  • Enterics (campylobacteriosis, C. difficile, salmonellosis) are within the Top 5 most frequently reported infectious diseases for those aged 65 to 74.
  • The main reasons for mortality in those aged 75 or older were heart and cerebrovascular diseases, dementia, falls and respiratory infections.
  • Overweight and obesity were the most prevalent self-reported conditions across all age groups, with anxiety and mood disorders being more prevalent in younger age groups.

“This policy brief is an attempt to advance new ways of understanding and approaching the design and implementation of public health policy in Niagara,” says NCO Director Charles Conteh.

“The discussion embraces a holistic life-course perspective and explores how health-related policies, programs and services in Niagara can give greater consideration to the social, economic and environmental dimensions of individual and community health and well-being.”


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