The rich get rich, and the poor get sick

The lights were on inside the school. The parking lot seemed dark. There was a public meeting, I thought; tonight, I thought. Where is the public?

There seemed to be only me. I tried a door. Nope. I tried another door. Aha. The sign was very small. The subject of the meeting?

An epidemic:

Diabetes.

I do not have, but am interested in, the subject of diabetes. Well, that is not exactly true. I am interested in who has it. I prowled the school, looking.

The first thing I found was a soft drinks machine in a hallway near the room where everybody was supposed to meet. Soft drinks, in a school, on a night when the topic of the public meeting is . . . I know, irony’s cheap. On the other hand, water in plastic bottles is wildly expensive, and there was also a drinks dispenser full of that.

The meeting room was nowhere near full, but I saw some trestle tables laden with food off to one side, as if there might have been a crowd.

On the tables, plates of sandwiches, a forest of broccoli, cubes of melon, and those tiny carrots that are not actually tiny, but have been milled into tiny shape. Nibbling to set an example, or perhaps to regulate their own blood sugar, were a couple of dozen workers for the various health organizations, nurses and so forth.

I found someone sitting on a bench who looked like the public. I sat next to her as the meeting started, and someone said there were translators available, including Spanish

The woman I was sitting with said she was from Ecuador. She had no need of translation. She had melon, a turkey sandwich and, for the past dozen years, diabetes.

The introductory speaker said nine per cent of the Canadian population has the disease, which could lead to kidney problems, and also amputations of the legs and feet; the cost to the health care system was billions.

Not to mention the misery.

He said that 1.169 million Ontarians have Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, which is roughly 12 per cent of the population, and the number is rising fast.

Even more miserable.

My friend from Ecuador applauded when the speaker had finished, and then we listened to some presentations.

Dennis Raphael spoke first. He is the one I’d come to hear. He is a health policy guy from York University. He pinned health and wealth together, or rather he pinned illness directly on poverty:

The death rate of the poorest people has risen from 17 to 25 people per 100,000, since the mid-1980s.

He said social injustice is killing us on a grand scale, and it wasn’t just him saying this, it was the World Health Organization.

He did a diabetes study a while back, and found a relationship between Type 2 diabetes and income:

If you make less than $30,000 a year, your chances of developing Type 2 diabetes are double those of people making $80,000 a year.

My neighbour nodded in agreement.

But — and this is an outrage — the people in Raphael’s study who developed the disease said they could not afford the diet they were supposed to follow.

He said our rate of poverty is double that of the Scandinavian countries, but poor people have better benefits, and better health, there.

His observation?

“Our economy is greater than it was in the 1970s, but the distribution of income is worse.”

His answer?

“We have to up the benefit levels, up the minimum wage, develop a national housing strategy, and close the gap between rich and poor.”

More on this in the days ahead.

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