Manitobans are getting healthier -- with fewer people dying before age 75 -- but the health gap between rich and poor continues to increase.
A study published Friday by the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy shows life expectancy rose significantly in the province between 2006 and 2011 as the incidence of diabetes, heart disease and stroke and other serious illnesses fell.
Men are expected to live until they're 77.5 years old (up from 76.6) while women are expected to live until 82.2 (up from 81.5).
Researchers analyzed more than 70 indicators of health status and health-care use, comparing them to similar reports spanning two decades.
Lead researcher Randy Fransoo termed the results of the latest provincial snapshot "stunning."
"The real surprise in this (report) is how almost universally positive the results are," he said. "Almost every one of the indicators... is showing improvement over time."
Particularly important is that the rate of premature mortality -- the number of people who die before reaching age 75 -- declined. It is considered by many to be the best single indicator of population health.
Nick Diakiw, 82, had colon cancer at 68. Not only did Diakiw survive, but the former city hall commissioner began working out regularly at the Seven Oaks Wellness Centre.
"I never thought I'd live to be 82, if that's what you're asking," Diakiw said on Friday, after his aquatic exercises.
Diakiw said living longer is fine, provided his quality of life is maintained. "If you're in good health and enjoying your life, that's fine," he said.
Dean Melvie, director of operations at the Wellness Centre, said a growing number of clients are well into their 70s -- and their options for exercise are expanding.
"We're seeing a great rate of participation for older adults," Melvie said. "They say 60 is the new 50, and 70 is the new 60. There's a reason for that. And I think this demographic is beginning to realize they can stay active."
However, some Manitobans are doing far better than others. The health status of northerners and those in Winnipeg's inner city either failed to improve or improved marginally compared with wealthier Manitobans.
But, Fransoo said, there's a "silver lining." The last time the MCHP took the pulse of the province, the poor were losing ground, he said. "Now at least, they're holding their own."
While there are many positive indicators in the report, several concerns remain.
The incidence of hypertension -- the percentage of people diagnosed with high blood pressure each year -- is down, but the prevalence (how many are living with it) keeps rising. The latter figure sits at a troubling 25.6 per cent, up from 24.8 per cent in 2007. People with the condition have a higher risk of heart and kidney failure and other health problems.
The report also found the incidence of diabetes is falling, but the prevalence of the disease in Manitoba is growing. Now, 10 per cent of Manitobans 19 and older live with diabetes, up from nine per cent in 2007. That means the health system is keeping people with diabetes alive longer.
Dr. Jon Gerrard, Liberal MLA for River Heights, said while the decreased incidence of diabetes (to 0.85 per 100 residents from 0.91) offers a "glimmer of hope," the rate is still higher than it was a decade ago.
"There are way too many people still getting diabetes. We still have a big epidemic. We still have a long way to go in order to turn this around," he said.
The 452-page report offers a breakdown of health trends by regional health authority and by municipality. Within Winnipeg, it has subcategories for neighbourhoods. For instance, the study reveals the suicide rate among residents aged 10 and older was highest from 2007 to 2011 in Point Douglas, followed by the rate downtown. It was lowest in Fort Garry.
There were significant increases in life expectancy for men in Winnipeg as well as southern and western areas of the province during the period, with no change in the Interlake or in the north. The biggest gains in life expectancy for women occurred in Winnipeg and the Southern Regional Health Authority.
-- With files from Randy Turner