Obesity rates in the region are well above the national norm, according to the fifth annual Vital Signs report released on Tuesday.
The Red Deer and District Community Foundation presented the final results of its survey that showed data on everything from health to crime and rental vacancies. A total of 198 respondents took part in the mainly online summer survey, compared with 334 in 2010.
A distinct picture of the community is developed using relevant national data and identifying local research on a wide range of subject areas. Sources for the data are extensive. They include the municipal census, Statistics Canada and Alberta Health and Wellness.
Kristine Bugayong, acting operations manager for the foundation, said one of the most interesting statistics to come from the study centred on adult obesity.
The 2010 rate for obesity in the former David Thompson Health Region dipped slightly in 2010 to 20.1 per cent from 20.9 per cent. But it was still above the national average of 18.1 per cent and the provincial average of 18.6 per cent.
In fact, the rate of obesity has been steadily rising since 2003.
“One of our key findings was that green spaces and trail systems would rank first, as well as recreational and active living,” said Bugayong, in front of community leaders who packed a hall in the Scott Block building. “But our obesity rates are in the 20 per cent range. So it begs questions — is it access to affordable, quality food? Is it nutrition knowledge?”
There does seem to be a serious and growing problem with diet and exercise, according to the Vital Signs newsletter that will be distributed to every Red Deer household today.
The economy and its impact on poverty were also front and centre during Tuesday’s unveiling.
Bugayong said business bankruptcies fell by 55.8 per cent in 2010 from a decade ago. There were 38 bankruptcies in the Red Deer economic region.
However, consumer bankruptcies rose by 20 per cent during the same time frame to 450 in 2010.
The report also showed a drop in median income for families. In 2009, it was reported at $79,408 — a decrease of 4.6 per cent from $83,310 in 2008. The national median income in 2009 was $68,410, while the provincial level was $83,560.
Maureen McMurtrie, president of the Red Deer Chamber of Commerce, said the Vital Signs report shows that business costs are cheaper in Red Deer than in the U.S. and that Red Deer has good growth with its gross domestic product. Plus, retail sales are up and the real estate market continues to rebound.
“Frankly, it’s anybody’s guess at this point as to how much the global economic woes will impact us here in Central Alberta,” McMurtrie said. “Businesses that have done the hard work of innovating, diversifying their revenue streams, doing some significant sustainability planning will certainly be in a better position to weather whatever comes along.”
Last year’s survey showed that residents’ quality of life was affected by the economic downturn.
Child poverty was also addressed. The rate in Red Deer was 20.9 per cent in 2009, up slightly from 20.8 in 2001. The national average is 23.2 per cent and the provincial average is 19.8 per cent. The rate is based on the Low Income Measure, which is an indicator of relative poverty.
“It hasn’t increased drastically, but has still gone up despite the ups and downs of the economy,” said Bugayong.
Red Deer Food Bank usage rose in 2010. The number of hampers totalled 7,349 compared to 7,123 in 2009.
She also noted that the top three strengths as identified by survey participants are — green spaces and trails, recreation and active living, and the economy. These have remained consistent over the last several years.
And like 2010, poverty was seen as the most dire issue in Red Deer. Crime is once again among the top issues of concern, Bugayong added.
Safety is a concern, too.
At 8,261 per 100,000 population in 2010, the property crime rate in Red Deer was 114.8 per cent above the national average (3,846 per 100,000) and 68.3 per cent above the provincial average (4,908 per 100,000).
Motor vehicle thefts are also above the national norm — at 436 per 100,000 population, the rate was 60.5 per cent above the national average (272 per 100,000) and 6.0 per cent above the provincial average (411 per 100,000). The rate did decrease 26 per cent from 589 per 100,000 in 2009.
The survey is important because it’s used for the foundation to determine what grants to hand out in the community. Plus, it’s a guide for philanthropists as to where to funnel their money. The survey also engages the community in 12 areas such as the arts, work and innovation.
This year’s survey asked questions from the past four years, but it added new questions on municipal spending on transportation, arts, culture and recreation. For example, a study by the Frontier Centre for Public Policy indicated that in 2008, the City of Red Deer spent the equivalent of $984 per household on recreation and culture. By comparison, Calgary spent $651 and Grande Prairie spent $2,613.
The report will be online at www.reddeervitalsigns.ca.
In 2011, 22 community foundations in Canada will publish similar reports.
Other report highlights are:
• The incidence of infectious syphilis, within the former David Thompson Health Region, grew to 4.0 per cent in 2008 and 2009 as opposed to 0.7 per cent per 100,000 people in 2004. Syphilis is a serious bacterial infection that’s passed on during intimate sexual contact.
• The total number of physicians per 100,000 population in the former David Thompson Health Region stayed consistent from 2005 to 2009, despite increase in population. The proportion of the population without a regular medical doctor has been increasing since 2008.
• The proportion of our population that have not completed high school has remained consistent at approximately 22 per cent over the last five years.
• The unemployment rate for youth (15 to 24 years old) increased significantly between 2005 and 2010.