4 unhealthy habits land Ontarians in hospital more than 900,000 days a year: study

May 29, 2014

OTTAWA – Smoking, physical inactivity, poor diet and unhealthy alcohol consumption are sending Ontarians to hospital for more than 900,000 days a year, according to a new study conducted jointly by the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES), the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute and the University of Ottawa (uOttawa).

“From 2001 to 2012, we found that nearly one of every three days Ontarians spent in a hospital bed could be attributed to smoking, physical inactivity, poor diet and unhealthy alcohol consumption,” said Dr. Doug Manuel, lead author and senior scientist at ICES and the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute.

The researchers have created an online calculator to help Ontarians estimate their life expectancy and the amount of time they might expect to spend in hospital due to their habits and lifestyle choices.

“We found that a 54-year-old Ontarian with the unhealthiest behaviours for all four risks had the same hospital use as the average 75-year-old Ontarian with none of the risks. That’s a 21-year health gap resulting from behaviours that are certainly modifiable,” said Dr. Manuel, who is also an associate professor in the Faculty of Medicine at uOttawa.

While other studies have looked at the impact of these behaviours individually, this is the first time they have been assessed as a group.

“This study clearly shows the benefits of healthy living," said Larry Stinson, President, Ontario Public Health Association. "Unfortunately, fixing this rather large problem is not as easy as people simply deciding to make healthier choices. We need to create an environment that actively makes it easier for Ontarians to live healthier lives, regardless of their income and where they live, work, study or play.”

In addition to increasing life expectancy and people’s overall quality of life, healthier living would also reduce demands placed on Canada’s health care system.

“As Ontario works towards a community model that provides the right health care in the right setting, gains in public health are essential,” said Dr. Jack Kitts, President and CEO of The Ottawa Hospital. "The shift will mean that acute care hospitals, such as The Ottawa Hospital, will be better able to focus expertise on providing the best care possible to the province’s sickest patients."

The study led by Dr. Manuel examined 79,477 Ontarians who were surveyed between 2001 and 2005 regarding their health status. This group's hospital use was then tracked to determine how much of that was attributable to the four behavioural risks.

The study found:
  • Thirty-two per cent of hospital bed use between 2001 and 2012 could be attributed to smoking, physical inactivity, poor diet and unhealthy alcohol consumption.
  • In 2011, these unhealthy behaviours accounted for the use of 942,000 hospital bed days, at a cost of $1.8 billion for insured residents of Ontario.
  • Nearly all Ontarians reported at least one of the four health behaviour risks; only 7.2 per cent reported none.
  • People between the ages of 20 and 79 with the unhealthiest behaviour for all four categories used 280 per cent more bed days (42 more days) when compared to people with the healthiest behaviours.
  • Smoking had the greatest impact on hospital use, followed by physical inactivity and poor diet (17 per cent, 12 per cent and 6 per cent of hospital use, respectively).
  • Ontarians with the lowest family income occupied hospital beds for 171 per cent more days than people with the highest income. Less than half of this difference was attributed to behaviour risks.
“We know that what we do has a tremendous impact on our health. But this report shows just how much those modifiable risk factors are costing our health care system in not only days, but dollars,” added Dr. Manuel.

"900,000 Days in Hospital: The annual impact of smoking, alcohol, diet and physical activity on hospital use in Ontario” was published May 29, 2014.

Author Block: Douglas G. Manuel, Richard Perez, Carol Bennett, Laura Rosella and Bernard Choi.

Try the Big Life Health Calculators.

Paddy Moore
Communications and Public Relations
Ottawa Hospital Research Institute
(o) 613-737-8899 x73687 or (c) 613-323-5680

Deborah Creatura
Media Advisor, ICES
(o) 416-480-4780 or (c) 647-406-5996

About the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute
The Ottawa Hospital Research Institute is the research arm of The Ottawa Hospital and is an affiliated institute of the University of Ottawa, closely associated with its faculties of Medicine and Health Sciences. The Ottawa Hospital Research Institute includes more than 1,700 scientists, clinical investigators, graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and staff conducting research to improve the understanding, prevention, diagnosis and treatment of human disease. Research at Ottawa Hospital Research Institute is supported by The Ottawa Hospital Foundation.

About the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences
ICES is an independent, non-profit organization that uses population-based health information to produce knowledge on a broad range of health care issues. Our unbiased evidence provides measures of health system performance, a clearer understanding of the shifting health care needs of Ontarians, and a stimulus for discussion of practical solutions to optimize scarce resources. ICES knowledge is highly regarded in Canada and abroad, and is widely used by government, hospitals, planners, and practitioners to make decisions about care delivery and to develop policy. For the latest ICES news, follow us on Twitter: @ICESOntario