Health also means housing, friends and sidewalks

Monitoring weight, quitting smoking not enough to test Richmond’s physical fitness

FRIDAY FEATURE: How healthy are we in Richmond?

Judging by the statistical data, we must be pretty buff as life expectancy here is among the highest in the country.

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According to Statistics Canada, Richmondites live an average of 84.9 years. That’s about four more candles on your birthday cake than the national average of 81.2 years.

So, what’s the secret? Is there a fountain of youth hidden somewhere out there on Lulu Island?

Sadly, no. We shouldn’t waste our time by channelling our inner Ponce de Leon and go in search if it.

Instead, it’s better to live a healthy lifestyle — one chock full of good food choices, regular exercise, and a neighbourhood with safe sidewalks?
That last factor may raise a few questioning eyebrows. But it shouldn’t as there are a myriad of factors that go into achieving good health, and accessible sidewalks are just one of many non-traditional ones.

Long gone are the days of just monitoring your weight, vowing to quit smoking (Richmondites already have some of the lowest smoking rates in the country) and seeing your family doctor on a yearly basis for a check up, explains Dr. James Lu, Richmond’s chief medical health officer.

And a new, region-wide, online survey is hoping to drill down deep to find out from the public just how healthy they feel they are, taking into consideration many of the physiological measurements we’re used to seeing, plus those societal factors we’re not.

“I think we are a healthy group, from all the statistics we gather, in terms of life expectancy and mortality rates. But when you look deeper into some of the issues like the choices we make in terms of lifestyle — things that may not affect us today, but perhaps 20 to 30 years down the road — maybe there are things we can improve on,” said Lu.

Lu was a panel member at a public forum Tuesday evening at Richmond City Hall called My Health, My Richmond.
Its intent was to make people more aware of what links a healthy lifestyle has, such as the degree of connection individuals feel with their community. Those attending were also encouraged to take part in the regional, online health survey called My Health My

Community, which is accessible at:

“In particular, it’s about understanding some of the social and economic and physical environment factors that determine health and wellbeing,” said Dr. Jat Sandhu, regional director of Vancouver Coastal Health’s public health surveillance unit.

Previous surveys — like the one conducted in Richmond in early 2012 — were not designed to gather that kind of detail and make those types of links with non-traditional factors affecting health.

“What we’re hoping to do with this survey is look at these trends and patterns at a neighbourhood level,” Sandhu said.

One of the overall goals of attaining that information is to assist local governments and community organizations in charting their policies and strategies to consider what are some of the barriers preventing people to lead healthy lifestyles.

And that speaks to more than just a person’s physical health, but the social and economic determinants, as well.

“We are interested in peoples’ physical health, how they are currently feeling or whether they are experiencing any chronic conditions,” Sandhu said. “But, in addition to that we want to know about some other lifestyle, behavioural factors.”

That would include how engaged an individual feels in their community, and even things such as what are their choices when it comes to public transit.

That’s where the question of good sidewalks comes into play, since a difficult-to-traverse neighbourhood can deter people from traveling beyond their homes, decreasing the likelihood they will use the local community centre, or even limit trips to the local grocery store to pick up some healthy fruits and vegetables for their meals.

“The message is that if you have friends, feel connected to the community, you’re out there and more active and are overall more healthy,” Lu said.

As for how the survey will help steer the future of healthcare, Sandhu said the communities it is reaching out to across Metro Vancouver, the Fraser Valley and coastal communities will be able to offer their opinions.

“Collectively, their voice is going to inform what future programs, services and policies may look like.”

It will also help determine what types of programs and strategies can help improve health levels at a local level.

“It can help to fine tune some elements of our disease management. But what’s really important about this survey is that when we think of health and well-being, 60 per cent of what influences that is determined by the social, economic and physical environment,” Sandhu said. “Health-care only plays about a 25 per cent role.

“By the time you need health-care it may be too late in the day. If we can start looking at primary prevention ... at some of the factors that result in chronic disease onset, that’s what we’re trying to do with the survey.”

But what about that supposed “fountain of youth” in Richmond?

Lu said the key to explaining that is no miracle. Much of it is down to immigration.

“We are able to attract healthy, new immigrants,” he said. “We do know when immigrants arrive here in Canada they are generally healthier than your normal Canadians.”

Part of that is the immigration process itself which has a number of physical checks.

There is also an economy factor involved, Lu said, explaining most immigrants come from an economic level that allows them to make healthy choices.

Studies also suggest the immigrant theory as two decades ago Richmond was not among the healthiest communities in the Lower Mainland — a time period coinciding with an influx of immigration locally.

And the ongoing level of health is probably down to the city’s degree of connection residents feel, Lu said, adding, “We have to look at how to preserve some of those senses of community as the city moves towards a more cosmopolitan, culturally diverse area.”

For more about the My Health My Community survey, visit On average, it takes 15 minutes to complete.

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