The local smoking rate has hit an all-time low, dropping lower than the provincial rate for the first time in memory.
The 16.9 per cent rate for daily and occasional smokers is under the 19.2 per cent provincial rate and is half what it was in the late 1990's when the local smoking rate was 34 per cent, compared to 30 per cent provincially. The local rate was 25 per cent just 10 years ago.
Meanwhile, the percentage of physically active people continues an upward climb, from 31 per cent in the late 1990's to 51.7 per cent in the December 2013, according to Statistics Canada's health profile of the Windsor-Essex region.
The rate for local daily smokers is just 12.3 per cent of people age 12 and older, compared to 14.4 per cent provincially.
We are very happy with the rate, said Kristy McBeth, manager of chronic disease and injury prevention for the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit, who was surprised by the drop but added that there's still a way to go.
She said the continuing downward trend shows the residents of Windsor-Essex, they're taking an active interest in prevention.
They want to be healthy and they want to live a better lifestyle. That's what this rate shows.
She said people are more aware than ever thanks to the Internet and social media that the healthy choices they make now will prevent chronic diseases later in life.
There's been a significant decline in the local smoking rate from just 18 months earlier, dropping from 22 per cent to 16.9 per cent, said Dr. Allen Heimann, the regions medical officer of health.
I think that's great, he said, expressing hope the numbers do not represent a statistical anomaly. I was certainly pleased to see it and I definitely hope for the health of the community that we are in fact moving in that direction.
Hes also happy that more people are becoming physically active, a trend he's noticed. I think around Windsor-Essex I see it, there's a lot more interest in biking and trails, and more awareness with respect to the need for physical activity than there has been.
The most recent health profile shows that local people are improving their lifestyles, but the rates of disease continue to be mostly higher than the provincial average.
Our rates of stroke, heart attack, heart disease deaths, circulatory disease deaths and lung cancer deaths remain above the provincial rates, due to the poor lifestyles we lived 20 years ago, Heimann said. Improving lifestyles will improve our local health rates in the years to come.
Looking at the declining smoking rate, he said it will definitely deal with colon cancer, lung cancer, breast cancer, all of those cancers certainly have smoking as a contributory factor, although No. 1 is certainly lung cancer.
The health units McBeth said there are many possible explanations for the sudden drop in local smoking rates, including government programs that encourage people to quit. One factor could be the campaigns in the last year to denormalize smoking by seeking outdoor smoking bans at parks and playing fields. Just starting that conversation gets people thinking about quitting, she said.
Judy Lund, who manages the local office of the Canadian Cancer Society, said while the latest stats are encouraging, there are still pockets that are troubling, such as the group of men ages 20 to 34 who still have a 34.7 per cent smoking rate.
Smoking is still the leading preventable behaviour that causes cancer; we've made progress but it still costs $1.5 billion in direct health-care costs, and a $6 billion overall economic cost, she said. Thirty-six people die in Ontario every day from smoking.
She said quitting is the single most important thing people can do to improve quality and length of life. Its just a huge, huge change.
The local lung cancer death rate is 54.6 per 100,000 population, compared to the provincial rate of 49.2, a higher rate which is largely due to the many years in the past when Windsors smoking rate was higher than the provincial rate. Meanwhile the death rates for other cancers such as breast cancer (90.6 per 100,000 population) and prostate cancer (130.8) are below the provincial rate. The overall death rate from all cancers is 401.7 which is close to the provincial rate of 398.8.
According to the health profile, our life expectancy is 80.7 years compared to the provincial age of 81.5. For local men, the age is 78.5 and for women its 82.7.
This area still has a higher percentage of people who are obese or overweight (56.7 per cent) compared to the province (52.6), who have high blood pressure (19.3 per cent compared to 17.6) and who have diabetes (9.7 compared to 6.6).
But this area has a lower rate of infant mortality (3.9 per 1,000 live births) than the province (5.1), due to good pre-natal care and good socioeconomic support for the pregnant mom, according to Heimann. He said Windsors rate is comparable to Scandinavian countries and half the rate of some places in the U.S.
That is a good measure of (a community's) healthcare and your socioeconomic support system.