At this time of year, everyone’s talking about holiday wish lists and thinking about New Year’s resolutions. One of the things I hope for every year is to see fewer problems that could have been prevented. So here’s my list of three preventable health issues I wish I’ll never have to treat again.
Measles, whooping cough & tetanus
Media backlash against anti-vaxxers has been swift, yet a small but significant number of Canadian parents are still delaying vaccinations or choosing not to vaccinate their children at all.
There are few things in the history of human health that have saved as many lives as vaccinations. In the case of tetanus, for example, a disease we start vaccinating for at two months of age, the fatality rate for persons who contract the disease ranges from 10 percent to over 80 percent. Three doses of the tetanus vaccine provides 99 percent protection. With measles, a virus that can cause significant illness and sometimes even death in children, a vaccine given at between 12 and 15 months of age with a booster later on is 100 percent effective.
Unfortunately, vaccine-preventable illness continues in North America. A measles outbreak that started in Disneyland last year ultimately affected communities across Canada. In London, Ont., a six-year-old boy was recently admitted to hospital in critical condition with tetanus. I still remember the unvaccinated baby I saw nearly die from whooping cough.
I understand that some parents are concerned about the hypothetical effects of preservatives that keep the vaccine stable. But these chemicals are used in infinitesimally small amounts and have been consistently demonstrated to be safe. The benefits of immunization for both individuals and communities are clear.
Obesity rates among children have been climbing over the past 30 years. According to Statistics Canada, nearly one-third of Canadians between five and 17 years of age are either overweight or obese.
What are the culprits? Increased portion sizes have played a big role (an average muffin today has 290 more calories than a muffin in 1995, for example). Talking with kids about this and encouraging the right mix of grains, proteins, fruits and vegetables will help set them on the right path. Another factor is screen time: As of last year, 24 percent of Canadian grade 4 students and 52 percent of grade 7 students had their own cellphones, which no doubt cuts into time traditionally spent being physically active.
Having a family plan to limit the use of screens can help children balance their time and get the right amount of physical activity. Of course, the best way to help our kids eat healthy and be active is to do the same ourselves.
This is a major problem for older Canadians. Every year in this country, 20 to 30 percent of seniors experience a fall, and falls are the direct cause of nearly all hip fractures, which lead to death in 20 percent of cases. Those who recover undergo a long and painful healing process.
There are a number of ways that falls in the home can be prevented. Install grab bars and non-slip mats in the shower. Better lighting in every room will improve visibility, and removing clutter, cords and small slippery rugs that pose falling hazards will improve the safety of your family’s space. Talk to the older people in your family to find out what activities are causing them the most difficulty.
As we look toward a new year, let’s all resolve to do what we can to prevent ill health rather than treat it. That’s a wish we can actually do something about.
Dr. Danielle Martin is a family physician and vice-president, medical affairs and health system solutions, at Women’s College Hospital in Toronto.