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Can J Public Health. 2004 Mar-Apr;95(2):115-20.

The health of Canadians on welfare.

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Department of Nutritional Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON.



Welfare programs provide income assistance to individuals whose resources are insufficient to meet their needs and who have exhausted all other avenues of support. With continued reductions in welfare in many provinces, the health of the nearly 2 million Canadians who rely on it may be compromised. This study examines the relationship between receipt of welfare and adult recipients' general, mental and social health, and selected chronic conditions.


We undertook a secondary analysis of data from the 1996/97 National Population Health Survey. To differentiate between disabled and non-disabled welfare recipients, we stratified our analysis by long-term disability status as defined by self-reported restricted activity.


After controlling for the potentially confounding effects of age, sex, and education, regardless of whether or not they reported restricted activity, adults on welfare when compared to those not on welfare had significantly higher odds of reporting poor/fair health, poor functional health, depression, distress, and poor social support. Among those without restricted activity, welfare recipients had greater odds of heart disease when compared to those not on welfare; no associations were observed between welfare status and obesity, diabetes, or hypertension.


These findings indicate that adults on welfare struggle with a broad spectrum of health problems; the increasing inadequacy of welfare benefits may put them at even greater health risk. The impact of welfare program reforms on the health and well-being of recipients must be assessed and monitored.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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