The Ontario government should make physical education mandatory in the province's schools and spend a portion of the "sin" taxes it collects from cigarette and alcohol sales on promoting healthy living, says a new report.The report, to be released on Wednesday, adds its voice to the growing debate over the sustainability of Canada's health-care system. It is the first initiative to directly engage the public in an issue that has been largely confined to politicians, health care professionals and academics.
Professional services firm PwC assembled a panel of 28 citizens to look for new and better ways to improve the health care system while ensuring that it remains accessible and affordable. The firm modelled the panel on a similar one in the United Kingdom. It selected members through a lottery system after sending invitations to 10,000 households across Ontario chosen at random.
Health care consumes 46 cents of every dollar the province spends on social programs. But the solution to sustaining the system isn't just about money, says the report, which was commissioned by PwC's health-care consulting practice.
The report's key recommendations address Ontarians at both ends of the life cycle: young people growing up with unhealthy eating and exercise habits and the elderly who require more complex care and support services.
The report identified where the province falls short in addressing the needs of the young and the elderly. There is little in the way of health promotion initiatives to reduce the risk of Ontarians from getting diabetes. There is also not enough community care and other at-home services to meet the complex health needs of an aging population.
"It's going to take a community to look after and care for our senior citizens," said Barbara Pitts, PwC's national health-care leader.
The report urges the government to expand or introduce mandatory nutrition and physical education programs for students in grades 1 to 12. Poor lifestyle choices are threatening the health of a generation, problems that will later become costly and difficult to treat, the report says.
The food industry should also be held to account through the use of mandatory warning labels on unhealthy foods and beverages.
Like many other regions in Canada, Ontario is struggling with a multi-billion-dollar deficit, putting the government under enormous pressure to deliver more and better health care with fewer dollars.
As a result, the report says, making the shift from providing care in the hospital, where acute care beds are costly, to the community is critical to "blunting the full force of the growing demands placed on the system by an aging population."