Does free health care or terrific medical treatment make citizens unwilling to change their lifestyle? There is a valid argument it is true. HIV has plummeted among every demographic except gay men, who have been found to engage in risky behavior because treatment is now so good. And free health care may be causing Canadians to not engage in personal responsibility in their lifestyles. 

According to a new study in PLOS Medicine, poor diet, smoking, and unwillingness to exercise contribute to about 50 percent of deaths in Canada.

Lead author Dr. Doug Manuel, senior scientist at The Ottawa Hospital and professor at The University of Ottawa, and colleagues created a numerical model to analyze data from ICES and the Statistics Canada 2009-2010 Canadian Community Health Survey and estimate how many years Canadians are losing.

The study found:

  • 26 percent of all deaths are attributable to smoking

  • 24 percent of all deaths are attributable to physical inactivity 
  • 12 percent of all deaths are attributable to poor diet 

For men, smoking was the top risk factor, representing a loss of 3.1 years. For women it was lack of physical activity, representing a loss of 3 years.

The researchers also found that Canadians who followed recommended healthy behaviors had a life expectancy 17.9 years greater than individuals with the unhealthiest behaviors.

"Unlike many other tools being used today, our method can measure life expectancy for specific socio-demographic groups or for small changes in risk exposure," said Dr. Heather Manson, Chief of Health Promotion, Chronic Disease and Injury Prevention at Public Health Ontario.  

Dr. Manuel and his team have also created an online calculator called Project Big Life to help Canadians estimate their own life expectancy based on habits and lifestyle choices.