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Life expectancy in Canada fell for the 3rd year in a row. What’s happening? – National

By admin Nov28,2023

For the third year in a row life expectancy has declined in Canada, a trend experts consider to be historical, indicating a worrisome downturn in our overall health.

Statistics Canada released its report Deaths, 2022 on Monday, showing that the life expectancy of Canadians fell to 81.3 years in 2022 from 81.6 years in 2021.  The decline was more prominent among females than men, the data showed.

“This is the first time this has ever happened,” Dr. Doug Manuel, a senior scientist at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, told Global News. “We’ve hardly had any declines, we have had a recession, but never like this, not three years in a row. It’s a pretty big event.”

“This is a measure of how our health is doing as Canadians. And it means that we’re doing worse.”

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There were 334,623 deaths in Canada in 2022, an increase of 7.3 per cent from 2021.

One major reason that Canada’s life expectancy rate fell for three consecutive years, is due to the COVID-19 pandemic that brought the world to a screeching halt in March 2020, according to Patrice Dion, an analyst at Statistics Canada.

However, he believes there are other factors at play as well.

Click to play video: 'Life expectancy decreasing for First Nations people in Alberta'

Life expectancy decreasing for First Nations people in Alberta

In 2022, there was an increase in deaths for older ages, which is mostly linked to COVID-19, Dion explained. But there has also been an increase in death rates among younger adults over the last few years, which he believes may be linked to the opioid crisis in Canada.

The increase in death rates among younger age groups can, in part, be linked to deaths under investigation by a coroner or medical examiner, Statistics Canada said.

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“These deaths are still under investigation by coroner or medical examiners, so we don’t know yet. We need more time to find out,” Dion said. “However, what we know from the past is that many of those deaths end up being classified as homicides, suicides or accidents or unintentional injuries, which include accidental drug overdoses.”

Life expectancy also varied across the country.

For example, Statistics Canada found that life expectancy dropped in Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba. But in Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia, where substantial declines were observed from 2020 to 2021, life expectancy was essentially unchanged from 2021 to 2022.

“The opioid crisis is evolving, the impact was felt much stronger in the Western provinces. B.C. and Alberta saw a decrease in life expectancy in 2021. Now it’s stagnated in 2022,” Dion said. “But now we see a decline (in life expectancy) in the Atlantic provinces, also in Ontario, Quebec. So is the (opioid crisis) moving eastward? We don’t know… a lot of questions, but important questions.”

Cancer and heart disease continued to be the primary causes of death in Canada, making up 41.8 per cent of total deaths in 2022, according to StatCan. This marks a slight decrease from the previous year, where cancer and heart disease accounted for 44.3 per cent of all deaths.

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“We’ve been seeing slower gains in cancer and cardiovascular disease,” Manuel said. “It went down over the last 50, 60 years, but now it’s plateauing. And our concern is that there’s headwinds and it’s going up. Obesity is going up, diabetes going up, and blood pressure is going up.”

The third leading cause of death was COVID-19.

Other top causes of death in 2022 included: accidents (unintentional injuries), cerebrovascular disease (stroke), chronic lower respiratory diseases, diabetes, influenza and pneumonia, Alzheimer’s disease, and chronic liver disease and cirrhosis.

In 2022, more than 227,000 deaths were attributable to the 10 leading causes of death, making up for 68.2 per cent of all deaths.

COVID-19-related deaths increased to 19,716 in 2022 from 14,466 in 2021, marking the highest toll since the start of the pandemic, Statistics Canada data showed.

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This increase may in part be due to the exposure to new highly transmissible COVID-19 variants and the gradual return to normalcy (such as reduced restrictions and masking requirements), the federal agency added.

The Omicron variant started circulating around the world towards the end of 2021, infecting millions of Canadians and changed the course of the pandemic. The variant was more transmissible than previous variants and better able to evade both vaccine and infection-acquired immunity. Omicron also resulted in an increase in hospitalizations and deaths with more infections reported.

“The Omicron variant had an impact,” Dion said. “As well as the preventive factors that changed in the country.”

Click to play video: 'On the front lines of Montreal’s opioid crisis'

On the front lines of Montreal’s opioid crisis

The proportion of COVID-19 deaths among older Canadians aged 65 years and older rose to 91.4 per cent in 2022, approaching early pandemic levels. This increase was largely felt by seniors aged 80 years and older, who experienced a 78.2 per cent increase in COVID-19 deaths from 2021 to 2022, data showed.

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In contrast, deaths linked to COVID-19 decreased to 8.6 per cent for those younger than 65 years in 2022.

In 2022, the rate of COVID-19 deaths also increased across all Canadian regions, except the Prairies. The largest increase was in Atlantic Canada, where the rate of COVID-19 deaths in 2022 was more than seven times higher than in 2021, Statistics Canada found.

“2022 was bad for COVID, it was our worst year. The sheer number of people who got infected and the older people who got infected and died,” he said. “It was bad. It knocked our life expectancy down. These stats don’t lie.”

How does this compare to the U.S.?

Life expectancy at birth in the United States has declined nearly a year from 2020 to 2021, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The decline, to 76.1 years from 77.0, took U.S. life expectancy at birth to its lowest level since 1996. It also marked the biggest two-year decline in life expectancy since 1921 to 1923, the CDC stated on its website on Aug. 31, 2022.

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“The declines in life expectancy since 2019 are largely driven by the pandemic. COVID-19 deaths contributed to nearly three-fourths or 74 per cent of the decline from 2019 to 2020 and 50 per cent of the decline from 2020 to 2021,” the CDC said.

When considering the potential for a rebound in life expectancy in Canada, Dion highlighted the inherent unpredictability of the pandemic.

“We don’t know how it will evolve,” Dion said. “It’s really hard to see a clear trend. And when we think about the opioid crisis, that’s evolving too.”

— With files from Global News’ Aaron D’Andrea

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