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Good health is crucial to the wellbeing of individuals, their families, and their communities. By keeping healthy, people are more able to lead rich and rewarding lives. People who are less healthy may find it more difficult to participate in sports and recreation, or arts and cultural activities, or simply to complete the tasks of daily living. They may also struggle to socialise with their family, friends and community [1].

Health and wellbeing are strongly influenced by a wide range of factors, both within and beyond the health system. Factors largely beyond the health system include environmental, social, and person-centred factors, many of which are reflected across the domains of the Canterbury Wellbeing Index [2-5].

Health is considered in this domain in terms of health status (self-reported health, acute medical admission rates, and proportion of the population accessing mental health services) and a number of factors that influence health status. The latter includes both behavioural factors (smoking, obesity, physical activity, and hazardous drinking) and health system factors (access to primary health care).

Key trends within health

There are nine indicators reported within this domain, and together, these indicators suggest a mixed pattern of effects on the wellbeing of greater Christchurch residents.

Self-rated health allows people to weigh up the different aspects of health that they consider most important. In the 2022 Canterbury Wellbeing Survey, 78 percent of greater Christchurch respondents reported that their health was good, very good or excellent – a significantly lower proportion than in 2019 (85%). Year 10 students’ smoking in Canterbury and New Zealand has been in steady decline since the early 2000s (1.1% of year 10 survey respondents in the Waitaha Canterbury district smoke every day in 2022). However, the proportion of Year 10 survey respondents in the Waitaha Canterbury region who vape every day has increased substantially, and statistically significantly, from 1.1 percent in 2015 to 9.8 percent in 2022 (although the rate of increase eased notably between 2021 and 2022).

The five indicators sourced from the New Zealand Health Survey (smoking, obesity, physical activity, hazardous drinking, and unmet need for primary care) all show a pattern for the Waitaha Canterbury region that is similar to New Zealand overall. The prevalence of adult smoking in the Waitaha Canterbury region (12.7% in 2020) continues to be in gradual decline, broadly consistent with the pattern for New Zealand overall. Adult obesity in the Waitaha Canterbury region has also been in gradual decline since 2016/17. In 2019/20 approximately one out of four Canterbury respondents were obese. The proportion of Waitaha Canterbury region respondents indicating that they are physically active has not changed over the last five years and is similar to New Zealand overall: about half of respondents report at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or equivalent physical activity per week. The proportion reporting drinking alcohol at hazardous levels in the Waitaha Canterbury region also appears to be similar to New Zealand overall and has not decreased significantly in recent years. One out of five respondents in Waitaha Canterbury and New Zealand drinks alcohol at a level that may be considered hazardous. The proportion of Waitaha Canterbury region respondents reporting unmet need for primary care has increased year-on-year since 2014/15 (23.2%) increasing ten percentage points to 33.4 percent in 2019/20, a statistically significant difference.

The age-standardised rate of acute medical admissions is lower in the Canterbury DHB region than in New Zealand overall. The Canterbury DHB’s rate has increased and decreased in line with the New Zealand rate over the last ten plus years and remains approximately 30 percent lower than the rate for New Zealand overall. Finally, the proportion of the overall population accessing mental health services (combined Non-Government Organisations, primary mental health, and specialist mental health services) in the Canterbury DHB region has increased substantially between 2010 and 2019. The picture varies by age group, with both a larger proportion accessing services and a greater rate of increase in this proportion for those aged 20 to 64 years.

Key equity issues within health

It is well known that both health status and access to the factors that support or promote health, are unevenly distributed within the population. Some population groups (for example, on the basis of ethnicity or socioeconomic deprivation) are disproportionately affected by reduced access to health determinants and by health system factors that influence the accessibility and quality of care [6,7].

While the majority of greater Christchurch respondents reported good, very good or excellent self-rated health in the 2022 Canterbury Wellbeing Survey (77.7%), a higher proportion of Europeans (78.0%) reported good, very good or excellent health compared with Māori respondents (73%).

In the Waitaha Canterbury region, the smoking prevalence for both Māori and Pacific respondents across the New Zealand Health Surveys from 2011-14 to 2017-20 is substantially higher than for all respondents. While the smoking prevalence for Māori has declined ten percentage points since 2014-17 (39.3%), the prevalence for Māori remains substantially, and statistically significantly, higher than for European/Other respondents in 2017-20 (29.9% and 14.2%, respectively).

Adult obesity is also unevenly distributed within the Canterbury population. In the 2017-20 New Zealand Health Surveys, the prevalence of adult obesity was highest for Pacific respondents (50.5%, down from 77.8% in 2011-14); followed by Māori respondents (35.4%), European/Other respondents (25.5%), and was lowest for Asian respondents (7.6%).

Approximately two out of five (40.8%) Māori respondents in the Waitaha Canterbury district indicated an unmet need for primary health care in the 2017 to 2020 New Zealand Health Surveys, compared with one third (33.6%) for European/Other respondents, although the difference is not statistically significant. In the Waitaha Canterbury district, the age-standardised acute medical admission rate per 100,000 population, all ages, for both Māori and Pacific peoples is substantially higher than the rate for the total Canterbury population (increasing notably since approximately 2016). However, the data do not provide insight as to the drivers of these differences by ethnic group (e.g., differences in disease burden and/or by other factors, such as service provision/access).

There is an increasing proportion of the population in the Canterbury DHB region accessing mental health services, and the proportions differ between Māori, Pacific, and the overall (total) Canterbury DHB population. Among those aged 0 to 19 years, service utilisation by Māori is above the total population level, and by Pacific is below. Among those aged 20 to 64 years, the most notable difference is the higher access rates for Māori compared with the total Canterbury DHB population, with Pacific being similar to the total Canterbury DHB population. The data do not provide insight as to what extent the differences by ethnic group are driven by disease burden and/or by other factors, such as service provision, affecting access. However, the higher proportion of Māori in Canterbury accessing services suggests that this population has a greater burden of mental health disorder, compared to the total Canterbury DHB population. National data also show that Pacific people have both a greater burden of mental illness than the general population and low access to services relative to need.

What this means for wellbeing

The health indicators for greater Christchurch present a mixed picture and most results are similar to those for New Zealand overall. Many of the results are not supportive of individual and community wellbeing (for example obesity, physical activity, and hazardous drinking). In addition, the indicator breakdowns demonstrate persisting inequities for some population groups.

The relationship between the health indicators and wellbeing is complex. Two important examples are acute medical admissions and access to mental health care services. The overall relationship between increasing rates of acute medical admissions and the wellbeing of the Waitaha Canterbury population is unclear. Further, the relationship between increasing acute medical admissions for Māori and Pacific peoples, relative to the total Canterbury DHB population, is also unclear. While improved access to health care may support improved wellbeing, increased service utilisation may also represent a deterioration in the health and wellbeing status of the population. Acute medical admissions are likely to be amenable to addressing the wider factors that influence health and by the provision of good care in the community [8]. Receiving care in the community that results in avoiding hospital admission is a positive outcome for most people. Lower admission rates are achieved through positive influences on the determinants of health or the provision of good community health care.

The relationship between increased mental health service access and wellbeing is similarly complex. It is relatively common for a person to experience mental health problems at some time in their life, and timely and equitable access to health care services is important for good health and wellbeing. However, increased mental health service access may reflect an increase in mental health burden in the population, with the initial and ongoing impacts of events such as the Canterbury earthquakes and Christchurch mosque attacks of March 2019 being important factors in the picture in Canterbury.


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