The average lifespan of Canadians has increased by more than 30 years since the early 1900s, and 25 of those years are attributable to advances in public health. There are various public health achievements that led to this remarkable feat. Nine of those listed below were identified by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in the United States. CDC also identified “Fluoridation of drinking water,” and this achievement has been broadened here as “Healthier environments.” Two additional achievements that are particularly Canadian have been added: “Acting on the social determinants of health” and “Universal policies.”

empty pockets

Acting on the social determinants of health

Recognition that health is influenced by many factors outside the health care system has strengthened public health’s commitment and leadership in activities that address the broad determinants of health, such as income, education, early childhood development and social connections.

Testing for TB

Control of infectious diseases

There are many different infectious diseases — from anthrax to West Nile virus — and controlling their spread has been a fundamental goal since the beginning of public health in Canada.

salted peanuts

Decline in deaths from coronary heart disease and stroke

Cardiovascular disease death rates have been declining steadily in Canada since the mid-1960s. The 1997 death rates were almost half those of 1969.

large family

Family planning

Women have long been attempting to control when to have children through birth control and other techniques. Waiting until the mother is at least 18 years old before trying to have a child improves maternal and child health and it is healthier to wait at least two years after a previous birth before conceiving the next child.

kids at a drinking fountain

Healthier environments

Canadian environmental policies have helped to increase the community’s health and to dramatically reduce toxic emissions such as lead and mercury.

mother and daughter

Healthier mothers and babies

In the early 1900s, many major health threats were associated with poor maternal and infant health. Today, the health of mothers and children in Canada is among the best in the world.

car crash test

Motor-vehicle safety

In 1998, Canada’s road fatality rate was ranked ninth among the 29 member countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

cigarette butts

Recognition of tobacco use as a health hazard

Canada has made more progress in tobacco control in recent years than most other countries in the world and has seen a dramatic decline in tobacco consumption, along with a pervasive shift in attitudes.

food testing

Safer and healthier foods

Canada is well known worldwide for its safe and high-quality food.

grain elevators

Safer workplaces

Well into the 1900s, many diseases or injuries were associated with unsafe workplaces or hazardous occupations. The rate of work-related injury has been steadily declining since 1988—from 40 injuries among every 1,000 workers in 1988 to 20 per 1,000 in 2006.

'Knights of the road' in the 1930s

Universal policies

The term “universal” generally applies to benefits that are awarded solely on the basis of age, residence or citizenship, without reference to the recipient’s income or assets. Universal programs for income maintenance, social welfare services and health care services have helped Canadians maintain a high standard of living and of health.



One hundred years ago, infectious diseases were the leading cause of death worldwide. In Canada, they now cause less than 5% of all deaths—thanks in part to immunization programs.