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Unhealthy habits cost Canadians six years of life


Unhealthy habits are costing Canadians an estimated six years of life, according to a study published today in PLOS Medicine. Researchers found that smoking, poor diet, physical inactivity, and unhealthy alcohol consumption contribute to about 50 percent of deaths in Canada.

“Unhealthy behaviors place a major burden on Canadian life expectancies,” said lead author Dr. Doug Manuel, senior scientist at The Ottawa Hospital and professor at The University of Ottawa, and a senior core scientist at the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES). “This study identified which behaviors pose the biggest threat.”

Dr. Manuel and his team created an algorithm to analyze data from ICES and the Statistics Canada 2009-2010 Canadian Community Health Survey.

The study found:

  • 26 per cent of all deaths are attributable to smoking
  • 24 per cent of all deaths are attributable to physical inactivity
  • 12 per cent of all deaths are attributable to poor diet
  • 0.4 per cent of all deaths are attributable to unhealthy alcohol consumption

For men, smoking was the top risk factor, representing a loss of 3.1 years. For women it was lack of physical activity, representing a loss of 3 years.

The researchers also found that Canadians who followed recommended healthy behaviors had a life expectancy 17.9 years greater than individuals with the unhealthiest behaviors.

“We hope this algorithm can help improve public health planning in the 100 countries around the world which already use population health surveys,” said Dr. Heather Manson, Chief of Health Promotion, Chronic Disease and Injury Prevention at Public Health Ontario. “Unlike many other tools being used today, our method can measure life expectancy for specific socio-demographic groups or for small changes in risk exposure.”

“Our approach is a new way of measuring the impact of health problems on life expectancy,” said Dr. Manuel. “In an era of big data, we should be moving beyond the old methods that have remained largely unchanged for the past 60 years.”

An earlier study published by ICES in 2012 found unhealthy behaviours cost Ontarians 7.5 years of life.

Dr. Manuel and his team have also created an online calculator called Project Big Life to help Canadians estimate their own life expectancy based on habits and lifestyle choices.

This study was funded by the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES) and the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care.

"Measuring burden of unhealthy behaviours using a multivariable predictive approach: life expectancy lost in Canada attributable to smoking, alcohol, physical inactivity, and diet" was published today in the journal PLOS Medicine.

Author block: Douglas G. Manuel, Richard Perez, Claudia Sanmartin, Monica Taljaard, Deirdre Hennessy, Kumanan Wilson, Peter Tanuseputro, Heather Manson, Carol Bennett, Meltem Tuna, Stacey Fisher, Laura C. Rosella.

About The Ottawa Hospital: Inspired by research. Driven by compassion. The Ottawa Hospital is one of Canada’s largest learning and research hospitals with over 1,100 beds, approximately 12,000 staff and an annual budget of over $1.2 billion. Our focus on research and learning helps us develop new and innovative ways to treat patients and improve care. As a multi-campus hospital, affiliated with the University of Ottawa, we deliver specialized care to the Eastern Ontario region, but our techniques and research discoveries are adopted around the world. We engage the community at all levels to support our vision for better patient care. See www.ohri.ca for more information about research at The Ottawa Hospital.

About the University of Ottawa: The University of Ottawa is home to over 50,000 students, faculty and staff, who live, work and study in both French and English. Our campus is a crossroads of cultures and ideas, where bold minds come together to inspire game-changing ideas. We are one of Canada’s top 10 research universities—our professors and researchers explore new approaches to today’s challenges. One of a handful of Canadian universities ranked among the top 200 in the world, we attract exceptional thinkers and welcome diverse perspectives from across the globe. www.uottawa.ca

The Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES) is an independent, non-profit organization that uses population-based health information to produce knowledge on a broad range of healthcare issues. Our unbiased evidence provides measures of health system performance, a clearer understanding of the shifting healthcare needs of Ontarians, and a stimulus for discussion of practical solutions to optimize scarce resources. ICES knowledge is highly regarded in Canada and abroad, and is widely used by government, hospitals, planners, and practitioners to make decisions about care delivery and to develop policy. For the latest ICES news, follow us on Twitter: @ICESOntario

For more information, please contact:

  • Amelia Buchanan
  • Senior Communication Specialist
  • Ottawa Hospital Research Institute
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  • (o) 613-798-5555 x 73687 or (c) 613-297-8315
  • Kathleen Sandusky
  • Media Advisor, ICES
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