Canada’s weight loss program: 34% of Canadian seniors take in less than $15,000

December 10, 2006

Canadian seniors receive most of their income from combinations of the Old Age Security (OAS), the Spouse’s Allowance, the Canadian/Quebec Pension Plan (C/QPP), the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS), and other government plans. Women rely on the OAS benefit much more than men. [Combinations of these have a maximum allowable annual income of $14, 256/single or $18, 720 couple; that is $1,748/couple or $1250/single. See LSS 2006/01]. About 34% of Canadian seniors have an annual income of less than $15,000 and 46% of Canadian seniors have less than $20,000 annual income. 42% of urban Canadian seniors who received community services lose weight unintentionally. Low income seniors claim they cannot buy healthy food.

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Health Services BC Government, Canada. 2004. “Profile of Seniors.”

AGING IS A NORMAL LIFE PROCESS and does not necessarily lead to poor health. Most older British Columbians are in good health. They evaluate their health positively, are at low risk for depression, and do not have moderate or severe health problems. However, falls and a higher susceptibility to chronic illnesses are health issues for some seniors. Most seniors in British Columbia say their health is either excellent, very good, or good. Only a minority of seniors say their health is either fair or poor. Younger seniors are much more likely to feel positive about their health than older seniors.
• Almost three-quarters of seniors (men and women) report that their health is either excellent, very good, or good.
• 17 percent of men and 14 percent of women age 65 to 74 say Health Status in British Columbia
Section Highlights
• Most seniors indicate that their health is either “excellent”, “very good”, or “good”.
• 63 percent of seniors have very good or perfect functional health.
• Seniors are much more likely to have chronic health conditions than those in younger age groups, and older seniors are more likely than younger seniors to suffer fr om multiple chronic conditions.
• More seniors are hospitalized because of falls than those in younger age groups, and senior women are more likely than senior men to be hospitalized due to falls. (BC 2004:18 )

Seniors’ Self-Reported Health Status

• About one-third of seniors (men and women) rate their health as fair or poor.
• Self-rated health status also varies by income as 31.7 percent of high income seniors rated their health as excellent as opposed to the 16.2 percent of low income seniors who rated their health as excellent. Most British Columbia seniors have very good or perfect functional health status. Functional health is measured by nine dimensions of physical functioning – vision, hearing, speech, mobility, dexterity, feelings, cognition, memory and pain. More than half of seniors have good vision, hearing, speech, mobility, and cognition. However, seniors are more likely to have moderate or severe health problems than other age groups, and older seniors have more of these problems than younger seniors
• 62 percent of B.C. seniors age 65 and over have very good or perfect functional health status, while 34 percent have moderate or severe health problems.
• 72 percent of B.C. seniors age 65 to 74, and about half of those 75 and over, have very good or perfect functional health status.
• 22 percent of B.C. seniors age 45 to 64 have moderate or severe health problems, compared to 49 percent of seniors age 75 years and over.

Deteriorating physical health can quickly change a happy retirement into a period of confusion, fear and chronic pain. When disabilities occur later in life, individuals who were involved in
working, socializing and traveling may suddenly face lower incomes, reduced mobility and dependence on caregivers and assistive devices. These changes can have a dramatic effect on
seniors’ mental and emotional well-being. Increased stressors also have consequences for physical health.
• It is estimated that seniors over the age of 65, are among the most under-treated populations for mental health issues with (BC 2004: 28 ) Seniors Mental Health Risk of Depression (Canada
and B.C.) Dementia more than one third of their mental health problems going untreated.
• Depression is following a worsening trend in B.C. as 11.6 percent of the general population was at risk in 2000/2001, up from 7 percent in 1996/1997.
• Younger age groups are slightly more at risk for depression than seniors, and women tend to have a higher risk of depression than men at all ages.

Suicide is a complex phenomenon that has many causes and underlying factors, such as a history of mental illness, addiction, and other demographic factors such as income and race. Up to 90 percent of people who have committed suicide had depression, problem substance use and/or a diagnosable disorder.
• Seniors account for approximately 12 percent of all suicides in Canada.
• Suicide rates in the general population are approximately four times higher for males than females (B.C. and Canada) and two and a half times higher for Aboriginals than non-Aboriginals (Canada).
• Females in the general population were hospitalized for attempted suicide at about one and a half times the rate of males in 1998/1999 (Canada).6
• In 2002, the suicide rate for all men in B.C. was 17.8 deaths per 100,000 men. Men 65 and over have the highest suicide rate with 22 suicide deaths per 100,000.
Suicide rates as well as suicide attempts are hard to track and are under reported because of both the stigma attached to suicide and the misclassification of deaths and injuries as unintentional rather than intentional.
Suicide Rate per 100,000: BC 2002 SOURCE: Ministry of Management Services: Detailed Cause of Death by Gender and Age 2002 Suicide (BC 2004)


Many seniors receive the largest share of their income from government programs.
• Senior women are more likely than senior men to have low incomes.
• The majority of seniors have an annual personal income of less than $40,000.
• About one-third of seniors who receive Old Age Security also receive the Guaranteed Income Supplement and can be classified as having low incomes.
• Seniors spend more than half of their yearly income on basics such as shelter, food, and transportation.


The longest life expectancies are found, not in the wealthiest countries, but in those with the smallest differences in income between the wealthiest and poorest citizens and the fewest people living in relative poverty. People with few socio-economic resources have poorer health, regardless of where they stand in the social hierarchy. (BC 2004: 35)Canadian seniors receive the largest share of their income from federal government programs. [There is a maximum allowable from various combinations of these. In 2006 a single senior’s maximum allowance from all of these sources is $14,256 annually or $1188/mo. In 2006 a senior couple’s maximum allowance from all of these sources is $18, 720 annually or $1,560/mo. See “When I’m 64”]. These include Old Age Security (OAS), the Spouse’s Allowance, the Canadian/Quebec Pension Plan (C/QPP), the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS), and other government plans. Women rely on the OAS benefit much more than men. The GIS provides additional financial security for seniors with low incomes. Senior women are more likely to have low incomes than senior men. Senior men are more likely than senior women to have income from Registered Retirement Savings Plans (RRSPs), non-RRSP investments, and employment. Employment income makes up a very small share of seniors’ incomes.In 1998, 36 percent of senior women’s income and 21 percent of senior men’s income was from OAS.
• 35 percent of senior men’s income and 22 percent of senior women’s income was from planned retirement income.
• 3 percent of senior women’s income and 8 percent of senior men’s income was from employment income.
• Overall, 59 percent of senior women’s income and 45 percent of senior men’s income was from government programs, including OAS, C/QPP, and other government transfers.Senior women tend to have lower incomes due to their limited or sporadic participation in the labour market or their segregation into jobs with low pay and low benefits. Their tendency to have lower incomes makes them more vulnerable to health problems than senior men.


The majority of seniors in British Columbia have an annual personal income of less than $40,000.
• 42 percent of senior women and 24 percent of senior men have incomes of less than $15,000.
• 36 percent of seniors have incomes of $20,000 or higher, but only 11 percent have incomes higher than $40,000.


17 percent of senior men, but only 5 percent of senior women, have incomes of $40,000 or more.
• 34 percent of seniors have an income of less than $15,000, 46 percent less than $20,000.
Seniors with low incomes, and this includes many senior women, are likely to have increased health problems because of their limited access to essential economic resources such as good housing and healthy food.
Seniors Total Personal Income from all Sources* by Gender: B.C. 2001 SOURCE: Statistics Canada, Canadian Community Health Survey: Cycle 1.1, 2000/2001.


The personal incomes of senior men and women in British Columbia vary somewhat by gender and age. The variation is more apparent for senior men than for senior women. Younger senior men are more likely to have higher incomes than older senior men because they are more likely to be employed.• 33 percent of men age 65 to 74 and 51 percent age 85 and over have annual incomes of less than $20,000.
• 29 percent of men age 65 to 74 and 26 percent of men age 85 and over have incomes of $40,000 or more (BC 2004:40).


Income is a key determinant of health and is strongly linked to other important determinants such as housing and nutrition. On average, seniors have lower incomes than people in most other age groups. In general, Old Age Security (OAS) benefits, including Guaranteed Income Supplements (GIS), continue to provide the largest source of income for seniors. As in other groups, female seniors have lower incomes than their male counterparts, and unattached senior women have considerably lower incomes than unattached senior men.


• 5 percent of Canadians age 55 or older reported not having enough money to buy healthy food in 1997.
• 15 percent of older Canadians with annual incomes of less than $10,000 said they could not afford a healthy diet.14
• 15 percent of seniors living in the community are malnourished.15 Seniors who are able to move about freely and take care of themselves have the lowest rates of malnutrition,16 but seniors who are frail and chronically ill tend not to eat enough.
• Among seniors in a large Canadian city who received community services, 42 percent reported that they had lost weight unintentionally in the previous year and that their calorie and protein intakes were found to be low (BC 2004:17).

Selected webliography

I have been confused by conflicting reports on the well-being of at-risk populations in Canada. How do we actually find out how those who are more vulnerable to social exclusion such as low income seniors and children are actually coping? Is there anywhere that accessible qualitative, current, plain English public policy research on this is reported? I have found these three sources but the focus seems to be on the quantitive data only.

Health Services BC Government, Canada. 2004. “Profile of Seniors.”

Legal Services Society (LSS). 2006. Benefits and Services for Seniors. January 2006.

Legal Services Society (LSS). 2006. “When I’m 64: A guide to benefits and services for people aged 60 and over.”

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