OTTAWA - Canada has made significant progress in 30 years in reducing premature deaths across the country, according to a new report.
The Canadian Institute of Health Information (CIHI) released a study Thursday into early death - defined as deaths of people younger than 75 years old - taking a snapshot of what killed Canadians between 1979 and 2008.
In that time, premature death rates fell 45%.
Still, in 2008, nearly 40% of all deaths in Canada of people under 75 came from preventable or treatable causes, and the institute estimates over 70% of those deaths were potentially avoidable.
While the biggest decrease since 1979 came from a drop in circulatory illness - heart disease, for example - it's still the No. 1 early killer of men.
Since 1979, neoplasms - abnormal tumours and growths often linked to cancer - have overtaken circulatory diseases as the leading cause of premature death in Canada, and they are the top killer for Canadian women.
Researchers also found poorer Canadians were up to four times more likely to die from preventable illness - where lifestyle is often a major contributing factor - than affluent Canadians.
"Once you get into the hospital, there isn't that much difference between the social economic status and whether you survive or not - so that's a great thing for the health care system in the sense it's treating people the way that it should," said Kira Leeb, a director at the institute.
"There's places where - from the preventable side - we're just not doing as much as we can."
Leeb also pointed to slight hikes in the rates of so-called lifestyle illnesses, such as diabetes and heart disease, as a worrying factor in an overall positive trend.
"When you look at some of the indicators we have there about risk factors - they haven't changed much year over year," she said.
"But what you do see is they're heading in the wrong direction."
Researchers didn't recommend specific policies to reduce the incidence of early death, but said campaigns over past decades aimed at curbing smoking were models for success.
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