An annual report on the health of the Canadian province of Quebec, released Thursday, finds that mortality rates among the poorest boys are three times higher than among rich children.
Poor girls had mortality rates twice as high as the well off, it said.
The report also found that the rates of hospitalization for mental illness were 127 per cent higher for underprivileged boys than their financially comfortable counterparts.
Underprivileged girls were 17 per cent likely to become mothers before they are 20.
The link between poverty and poor health has been known for a long time, but the surprise finding is that the impact of poverty follows a child through out his life even when socio-economic conditions change later, said Dr. Alain Poirier, National Director for Public Health and assistant deputy minister of the Quebec Ministry of Health.
"Poverty causes the kind of damage that compares with cardiovascular disease," Poirier said after handing down a 163-page report at a public health conference held in Montreal.
"We have to continue to reduce poverty," said Alain Poirier. "It is certainly the best investment in health."
The study suggested that Quebec was not only besting its provincial rivals in the fight against poverty, it was also doing a better job than the United States, Britain and Australia.
Quebec nevertheless lags behind France, Germany and the Scandinavian countries.
"Despite Quebec's healthy economy, the employment rate has risen, we see that the impacts and the consequences of poverty on health . . . haven't really improved," Poirier said.