Nearly half (47 per cent) of Canadian benefits plan members say their health was generally excellent or very good in the past year, up from 43 per cent in 2021, according to the 2022 Benefits Canada Healthcare Survey.

While just 10 per cent of plan members reported being in poor health, down from 13 per cent in 2021, this percentage jumped to 36 per cent among plan members who described their mental health as poor. And a quarter (27 per cent) of members who aren’t satisfied with their job reported being in poor health, compared to just seven per cent who are satisfied with their job.

Read: Mental-health supports, training on the rise as a fifth of benefits plan members report poor mental health: survey

During the last year, fewer members appear to have experienced negative changes in behaviour or health-related issues, particularly in the areas of weight gain (33 per cent in 2022 versus 41 per cent in 2021) and poorer eating habits (24 per cent versus 31 per cent).

When asked which areas need improvement, respondents cited exercise/physical activity (42 per cent), followed by weight reduction (33 per cent), healthy eating (32 per cent) and sleep (31 per cent). A quarter (26 per cent) would like to manage stress better and a fifth (21 per cent) would like to improve their mental health.

“Plan members would like to do more physical activity and eat healthier, but behaviour change can be very difficult,” said Jennifer Curzon, regional vice-president of sales, group benefits and retirement solutions at iA Financial Group and an advisory board member, in the report. “So many people don’t know where to begin or how to keep it up. Taking a medication is so much easier and coverage is readily available. As an industry, we need to figure out how to provide more tactical support for behaviour change.”

Read: Meal-kit companies encouraging healthy eating habits among employees

Plan members with a mental-health condition or obesity were more likely to report weight gain (48 per cent and 54 per cent, respectively), feelings of anxiety or sadness/depression (63 per cent and 52 per cent, respectively), trouble sleeping (45 per cent and 33 per cent, respectively), decreased concentration at work (37 per cent and 26 per cent, respectively) and increased alcohol consumption (17 per cent and 23 per cent, respectively).

Among the 11 per cent of respondents who reported increased alcohol consumption in the past year, one in three (33 per cent) said they’d like to decrease their consumption to improve their health.

More than half (58 per cent) of plan members reported  they have at least one chronic disease or condition, comparable to last year (60 per cent). This percentage jumped to 71 per cent for plan members aged 55 to 64. Two-fifths (41 per cent) said they experience chronic pain, down slightly from 45 per cent in 2021. When combined with other chronic conditions, 67 per cent said they have chronic conditions and/or chronic pain, increasing to 78 per cent among respondents aged 55 to 64. However, plan sponsors estimated just 35 per cent of their workforce has a chronic condition, comparable to previous years.

Read: Exploring the link between chronic physical, mental-health conditions

Mental-health conditions such as depression or anxiety (22 per cent) were the No.1 diagnosed chronic condition, followed by high blood pressure (12 per cent), high cholesterol (12 per cent) and arthritis (11 per cent). Obesity (eight per cent) was included on the list of chronic diseases for the first time this year and the condition was more likely in Atlantic Canada (13 per cent), Ontario (10 per cent), among plan members aged 45 to 64 (11 per cent) and females (10 per cent).

“Plan sponsors underestimate the proportion of plan members who have been diagnosed with a chronic condition by a margin of almost 40 per cent,” said Andrea Frankel, private payer lead at Sanofi Canada and an advisory board member, in the report. “Most [plan members] use medications to manage their conditions, so they’re counting on their benefits plans to provide coverage. People also want to get moving again after two years of reduced physical activity, thus plans that support nutrition and fitness will be highly valued.”

Read: Update benefits plans, workplace policies to treat obesity like any chronic disease