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Saturday, Feb. 4, 2006

Urbanites live longer than rural Canadians
Friday, July 5, 2002 – Page A4

VANCOUVER -- In Richmond, B.C., a suburb south of Vancouver, residents like to think their community is more laid-back than the big city to the north. Now a new Statistics Canada report goes further, saying Richmond residents aren't just relaxed; they're among the healthiest in the country.

The study, entitled The Health of Canada's Communities, said the life expectancy of residents in Richmond, B.C., a community of about 160,000, best known as the home of Vancouver International Airport, is 81.2 years, nearly three years higher than the national average of 78.3 years. "It must be the good restaurants," Reggie Ho, an environmentalist and community activist, joked.

Mr. Ho said he thinks Richmond residents are among the most active he's met. People flock daily to the embankments and walking paths that surround the city, which is also an island.

"We have long, long river roads," Mr. Ho said. "People are jogging and biking and walking their dogs."

Richmond also has the lowest smoking and obesity rates in the country, according to the report.

People living in the Quebec Arctic region of Nunavik have the shortest life expectancy in Canada. The average there is 65.4 years, nearly 13 years lower than the Canadian average.

The report looked at the life span and health of 10 different groups of Canadians, based on where they live. Among the categories studied were the three biggest cities, the far North and rural Prairie areas. (Richmond was one of the pockets that showed up as anomalous during the examination of the city data.)

It found that people who live in Canada's three biggest cities generally live longer than people in smaller centres, rural areas and the far North. That is likely because people in cities have higher educations, make more money, drink and smoke less and exercise more, said Margo Shields, one of the report's authors.

Ms. Shields said social and economic status are among the key determinants of a person's expected health and life span. People in higher income brackets generally have fewer health problems and live longer, she said. And people with higher incomes generally live in cities.

However, she said smoking is still the single most important preventable cause of death. In 1996, about 45,000 Canadian deaths were attributed to smoking.

People who live in Canada's northern regions have the shortest life spans, the report said. Their education levels are lower and they face higher unemployment levels. They also have the highest smoking rate, which at 39 per cent, is 17 percentage points higher than the Canadian average. They also drink more and exercise less.

However, some city dwellers also have problems. The centre of Montreal, for instance, had the highest rates of smoking, obesity, heavy drinking and stress among major urban centres, and it also had the lowest life expectancy: 77.9 years.

The statistics agency took data from the 1996 census and lumped 139 health districts in the country into groups containing between five and 34 districts each.

The peer groups were assembled on the basis of a number of factors, including population, average years of schooling, unemployment rate, average income and percentage of aboriginal and visible minority populations.

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