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Chilliwack residents get too much screen time and not enough exercise

A few Chilliwack statistics from Fraser Health
A few Chilliwack statistics from Fraser Health's My Health My Community survey.
— image credit: Fraser Health

Men in Chilliwack get too much screen time and eat too few vegetables.

Women in Chilliwack smoke too much and don’t get enough exercise.

Local seniors are watching too much TV, and obesity and chronic breathing conditions are of particular concern for Chilliwack residents, at least compared to the rest of the Fraser Valley and the Lower Mainland.

Those are a few of the broad strokes from Chilliwack’s community health profile as outlined in a region-wide report of health and wellness released Tuesday.

The My Health My Community survey looked at a variety of health indicators: health, lifestyle, primary care access, built environment and community resiliency [sic], in every community in Vancouver Costal health and Fraser Health.

Also analyzed were social determinants of health such as education, income and ethnicity.

The point of the survey, according to Fraser Health, is to gather data to be used by community agencies and local governments to “understand factors influencing health” in the area.

“The survey is like a blood-test for our communities,” said Dr. Victoria Lee, chief medical health officer for Fraser Health. “The results provide us with valuable information that our medical health officers can use to ‘diagnose’ the health of our region. We can then focus our work with municipalities and local stakeholders to create a roadmap of good health for the future.”

Two particular statistics stand out for Chilliwack, one positive, one negative.

At 92.3 per cent, the city has the highest rate of respondents with a family doctor in all of Fraser Health. In the Fraser Valley the average is 89.7 per cent and in the larger Fraser Health region the rate is 85.8 per cent.

"I was quite pleasantly surprised by the access to primary care," Fraser Health officer Dr. Andrew Larder told the Times Thursday.

At the same time, Chilliwack had the highest rate of obesity, at 36.7 per cent, in the health region. The rate for the Fraser Valley was 33.7 per cent and for all of Fraser Health it was 27.2 per cent.

Women in particular are not getting enough exercise as just 38 per cent of respondents reported 150-plus minutes of weekly physical activity, compared to 50 per cent of males. The overall rate of 43 per cent for Chilliwack compares to 45 per cent in the Fraser Valley.

A local smoking rate of 12 per cent overall is just above the 11 per cent average in the Fraser Valley but, alarmingly, in the 18 to 39 age category, the smoking rate is 18 per cent and more women than men smoke.

"That may reflect the characteristics of young people, the propensity to take risky behaviours and it's also where the tobacco companies target their advertising," Larder said. "They are the ones they are trying to recruit."

One area where Chilliwack fared particularly badly was in the category of “healthy built environment” indicators. The city fared worst in the Fraser Valley on two of these: car commuting at 81.8 per cent (Fraser Health average was 67 per cent); and public transit commuting at 3.2 per cent (Fraser Health average was 21.4 per cent).

Larder said the poor healthy built environment numbers point to a problem across the Fraser Valley where relatively small populations are spread over large geographical areas.

"It's much, much more challenging to get people walking and biking and using public transit in settings that we have in the valley," he said.

And that, in turn, explains part of the obesity problem.

Low levels of education and corresponding poverty were found to be particular determinants of health. Across the Fraser Valley, for example, university graduate smoking rates were 70 per cent lower, fruit and vegetable consumption was 2.5 times higher and screen time was 40 per cent lower than for those with lower levels of education.

Similar comparisons were found between folks who make more than $120,000 to those who make under $40,000.

"That all links to the issue of food security, access to nutritious, affordable food," Larder said. "That is another key issue that I know lots of most communities are concerned about and that's something that broader society has to address."

The study also found a few ethnic anomalies, for example, Canadian-born respondents were 60 per cent more likely to eat the recommended daily amount of fruits and vegetables and are 70 per cent more likely to be smokers.

Compared to the Fraser Valley average, fruit and vegetable consumption is 60 per cent lower among South Asians, high levels of screen time were reported 25 per cent higher among Chinese respondents and the rate of smoking was three times higher among aboriginal peoples.

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