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Binge drinking on the rise in B.C., health officer says

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Binge drinking is increasing in British Columbia, says provincial health officer Bonnie Henry, who today released her report on the health of people in the province.

The percentage of British Columbians age 12 and older engaging in hazardous drinking has increased to 16.5 per cent from 15.8 per cent in 2017, says Henry’s report, Taking the Pulse of the Population: An Update on the Health of British Columbians.

The guideline target for 2023 is 14 per cent.

Increased alcohol consumption and the opioid overdose crisis were two main areas of challenge identified in the report, which examined 36 performance measures of public health.

For future reports, Henry said she plans to review recent policy changes that have made alcohol more readily available and the impact of the opioid-overdose crisis.

Overall, the report shows the health of many British Columbians is good and improving — the incidence of diabetes, mortality due to preventable causes, smoking during pregnancy and the incidence of hepatitis C are all decreasing.

However, there is plenty of bad news, too.

Consumption of fruit and vegetables dropped, fewer people report experiencing positive mental health, and more youth are vulnerable in terms of their social and emotional development.

“More targeted health prevention and promotion programs will help close those gaps and reverse worsening trends,” said Henry.

The report notes that there were several gender-related and regional disparities identified among the 36 areas measured.

Men, for example, are twice as likely to die of unintentional injuries or due to preventable causes.

Meanwhile, women are less likely to be physically active and those age 75 years and older have higher rates of fall-related hospitalizations.

The gap in life expectancy between regional health authorities is also widening. Health-adjusted life expectancy — a measure of both length and quality of life, according to the provincial report — is highest in the Vancouver Coastal Health region (71.7 years for males and 75.1 years for females) and lowest in the Northern Health region (66.7 years for males, 69.0 years for females).

Henry’s report makes seven recommendations to the Ministry of Health, health authorities and partners, calling for, among others:

  • Targeted interventions that recognize sex-and gender-specific health needs, and support all gender identities and sexual orientations
  • Increased support for government programs and policies that focus on health among women (including pregnant and post-partum women), children, youth and families
  • Increased focus on illness and injury prevention, as well as health promotion, for people living in rural and remote areas
  • Further developing mechanisms to monitor air, water, soil and food supplies, as well as the health impacts of climate change
  • Increasing the proportion of health authority budgets allocated to population and public health