The Chief Public Health Officer's Report on the State of Public Health in Canada 2011 – A message from Canada's Chief Public Health Officer

A Message from Canada's Chief Public Health Officer

"…age is foolish and forgetful when it underestimates youth…"
– J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

This report is my fourth as Canada's Chief Public Health Officer. The intent of these reports is to inform Canadians and stimulate a dialogue on the many factors that contribute to good health and what we, as a society, can do to advance public health in Canada. In this report, I have chosen to focus on the health and well-being of Canada's youth and young adults. I have also highlighted areas where we can collectively take action to ensure the best possible future for our youth.

The path each of us takes from childhood to adulthood is varied and complex. Although the period of adolescence and young adulthood in Canada is generally a time of good health, it is also a time of significant biological, psychological, economic and social transition. This period marks a time where many lifelong attitudes and behaviours are established, setting the stage for future health and well-being.

When I was young, the path to adulthood was relatively well understood and predictable. The path young people follow today is less formulaic and much longer. This can be attributed to a number of factors, from a changing job market, to demands for more education, to changing attitudes towards marriage, sexuality and co-habitation, to greater cultural diversity in Canada with a wider variety of values.

Historically, Canada was a very different place in other ways as well. Hospitals were filled with children suffering the complications of polio. Motor vehicles were far less safe, smoking was not considered a major health hazard, birth control was not easily accessible and few antibiotics were available to treat infections. While we have made much progress, new challenges need to be addressed.

Generally speaking, Canadian youth and young adults are healthy and highly resilient, and most are successfully making the transition to adulthood. But not everyone is flourishing. Those who are not doing well are disproportionately represented by youth from low-income families, youth who live in remote communities, sexual and gender minority youth and Aboriginal youth.

This report highlights selected health issues for youth and young adults today, such as injuries, obesity, sexual health practices, mental illness and substance use and abuse, all of which can negatively impact healthy transitions to adulthood. These issues represent worrying trends, and yet the evidence shows that the behaviours, practices and circumstances that give rise to these issues can be improved.

I am concerned about those young people who are not able to make a successful transition to adulthood and who may not see a future for themselves. Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, "We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future." This is an insightful observation, and I am confident that, with long-term vision, planning and collaboration, we can strengthen the health and well-being of all youth and young adults in Canada and better reach those who need our help.

Without a doubt, governments at all levels have a role in building enabling environments. But, as with most public health activities, close collaboration across sectors, jurisdictions and levels is essential. As is usually the case, we need a "whole-society" approach, with governments, communities and families working together closely.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion. This influential document recognized the importance of involving communities in priority setting and managing their environment. It also recognizes the importance of people feeling they have control over their destinies. I am struck by the lasting relevance and impact of the Ottawa Charter. It is important that, as we address issues of concern to all Canadians, we remember that it is less about doing things to people, than it is about creating supportive environments that allow people to take charge of their own futures. Having enough resources for the basics of life is essential. But having influence over our situation – loving and being loved, feeling safe and secure, being able to plan the future with confidence, and having some control over our living and working conditions – is often the difference between mediocre or poor health, and great health. Of course, public health has a vital and enduring role. We will be called upon to work with other sectors, advising them on what we can do together to help all Canadians maintain their health and to transition in a healthy way.

Dr. David Butler-Jones

Dr. David Butler-Jones is Canada's first and current Chief Public Health Officer. He heads the Public Health Agency of Canada which provides leadership on the government's efforts to protect and promote the health and safety of Canadians. He has worked in many parts of Canada in both Public Health and Clinical Medicine, and has consulted in a number of other countries. Dr. Butler-Jones has taught at both the undergraduate and graduate levels and has been involved as a researcher in a broad range of public health issues. He is a Professor in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Manitoba as well as a Clinical Professor with the Department of Community Health and Epidemiology at the University of Saskatchewan's College of Medicine. From 1995 to 2002, Dr. Butler-Jones was Chief Medical Health Officer and Executive Director of the Population Health and Primary Health Services Branches for the Province of Saskatchewan. Dr. Butler-Jones has served with a number of organizations including as: President of the Canadian Public Health Association; Vice President of the American Public Health Association; Chair of the Canadian Roundtable on Health and Climate Change; International Regent on the board of the American College of Preventive Medicine; Member of the Governing Council for the Canadian Population Health Initiative; Chair of the National Coalition on Enhancing Preventive Practices of Health Professionals; and Co-Chair of the Canadian Coalition for Public Health in the 21st Century. In recognition of his service in the field of public health, York University's Faculty of Health bestowed on Dr. Butler-Jones an honorary Doctor of Laws degree. In 2010, Dr. Butler-Jones was the recipient of the Robert Davies Defries award, the highest honour presented by the Canadian Public Health Association, recognizing outstanding contributions in the field of public health.

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