SPHERU engages in population health research – the study of social factors contributing to the well-being of various groups within the population.

Welcome to SPHERU

The Saskatchewan Population Health and Evaluation Research Unit is a bi-university health research unit based at the Universities of Regina and Saskatchewan. Since 1999, SPHERU has established itself as a leader in cutting edge population health research that not only looks at what and the why of health inequities -– but also how to address these and take action.

What’s Happening at SPHERU

Abonyi new acting SPHERU director

Dr. Sylvia Abonyi has been appointed as Acting Director of SPHERU, effective July 1, 2014. She takes over from Dr. Nazeem Muhajarine, who will continue to be a part of SPHERU as head of the Healthy Children team. Dr. Tom McIntosh of the University of Regina will stay on as SPHERU’s Associate Director. “Sylvia has been with the unit since its early days and has continually been a very active researcher, scholar and mentor to students and research staff,” Dr. Muhajarine said. Abonyi is an anthropologist and long-time member of SPHERU. Her primary research area is Aboriginal health and exploring the links between culture and health. She has worked on a number of research projects in northern and remote Saskatchewan and across the Prairies. As well, she is an associate professor with the University of Saskatchewan’s Community Health and Epidemiology Department and holds a Tier II Canada Research Chair in Aboriginal Health. “I am excited to take on this role for the next year and look forward to our SPHERU work,” she said.

Muhajarine interim head of public health

SPHERU’s Dr. Nazeem Muhajarine has been appointed Interim Executive Director of the University of Saskatchewan School of Public Health, effective July 1, 2014. The appointment is for one year, as the university conducts a national search to find a public health leader to take on the role on a permanent basis. “I am confident that under Nazeem’s leadership, the school will enhance its potential to have a real impact on issues important to communities in Saskatchewan and around the globe,” Interim Provost and Vice-President Academic Ernie Barber said in a news release. The release highlights Muhajarine’s background, including his work with SPHERU and his eight years as head of the university’s Department of Community Health and Epidemiology in the College of Medicine: co-leading the Canadian Index of Wellbeing: Healthy Populations report in 2011; serving as the lead on knowledge translation for a national Network of Centres of Excellence in neurodevelopment until 2013; reviewing academic programs in public health, epidemiology and community health for the Ontario Council on Graduate Studies; and serving on national review panels for the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) on population and child health. Muhajarine will chair a Heart and Stroke Foundation research review panel later this year and is leading a new CIHR-funded Saskatchewan network examining the efficacy of primary health care initiatives, the Strategy for Patient-Oriented Research (SPOR). He will continue to lead SPHERU’s Healthy Children research team during his secondment to the School of Public Health.

Johnson honoured with ICCC award

Dr. Shanti Johnson was awarded at the Indo-Canada Chamber of Commerce 2014 Female Professional of the Year Award in Toronto on June 14. The award was part of the ICCC’s annual Awards and Gala Night at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. The event promotes trade and commerce between India and Canada and recognizes the achievements of Indo-Canadians from all across Canada by way of an award presentation. As well as being a SPHERU researcher, Johnson is a professor in the Faculty of Kinesiology and Health Studies and the Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Studies. She is also the president of the Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute, a bi-national network of more than 90 universities and academic institutions in Canada and India. “I was recognized for my research in the area of aging, plus my work in the Canada-India linkages,” she says. During the last 37 years, ICCC has become as one of the largest membership-based national business organizations in Canada with more than 1,500 members representing all facets of the Canadian economy. Awards, as chosen by an independent advisory board, are given in the following categories: Female & Male Entrepreneur; Female & Male Professional; Young Achiever of the Year; Technology Achievement; Corporate Executive; Humanitarian; and Lifetime\Outstanding Achievement. Past winners in the Female Professional of the Year category include Dr. Sadhna Joshi of the University of Toronto, Dr. Madhur Anand of the University of Guelph and Dr. Usha George of Ryerson University.

Reports look at early learning, childcare

SPHERU co-hosted meetings in Regina and Saskatoon of early childhood development stakeholders last fall in conjunction with the Muttart Foundation, private foundation that supports charities in Canada, primarily in Alberta and Saskatchewan. The forums looked at how early learning and childcare is organized, funded and delivered in Saskatchewan. In December, the Muttart Foundation released a background paper. More recently, it released separate discussion reports from the two sessions. The new reports are targeted towards the participants, which included senior staff involved in the planning and delivery of services in communities and schools, as well as from the cities and communities around the province. These reports outline the key dimensions of early learning and care. While they do not identify individual participants, they include reflections from people in the field on issues such as engaging parents, building support, developing a framework for service delivery, financing, managing and regulating, providing access for families, supporting the early learning and childcare workforce, educating the public and defining the role of government. The reports for the Regina meeting and the Saskatoon meeting are available online, as is the background paper.

Project evaluates Aboriginal programs

SPHERU is conducting an implementation process evaluation of two programs aimed at promoting healthy lifestyles to Aboriginal children and youth. Dr. Sarah Oosman is leading the SPHERU team evaluating the implementation of the two provincial programs. “It’s part of the Aboriginal Diabetes Initiative that Health Canada (Saskatchewan) has been rolling out for a number of years,” she says. The program dates back to 2009 when FNIH Health Canada, Saskatchewan region began its region-wide approach aimed at encouraging First Nations children and youth to become more active and choose healthy lifestyle options in on-reserve schools.  Action Schools!BC (AS!BC) was originally developed by a group of researchers in British Columbia, and Youth Empowerment Through Exercise (YETE) is based on the John Ratey book, Spark, and on a program developed by a local Saskatoon teacher. Both are currently being funded and delivered by Health Canada-Saskatchewan Region and are part of Health Canada’s plan to focus on creating strength of body, mind and spirit among the participating children and youth in Saskatchewan. YETE encourages Grade 8 and 9 students to take part in 20 minutes of vigorous exercise each morning using equipment such as treadmills or elliptical trainers, which are provided as part of the program. Currently, 60 First Nations schools in the province are taking part. AS!BC is aimed at younger children in elementary school and promotes exercise and movement especially through the use of items in an activity kit. Fifty-seven First Nations schools have adopted the program. For the project, SPHERU has created an evaluation framework, which consists of developing program logic models. Throughout the evaluation project, it has been a priority to integrate both Health Canada (SK region) and First Nations community perspectives and maintain each group’s active involvement through every stage of the evaluation process. Part of the project looks at the implementation process from the Health Canada level, while part of it examines the process and perspectives at the level of First Nations communities. Earlier this year, the evaluation team met with communities in Saskatchewan where programs have been implemented in schools. The goal has been to learn through key informant interviews and focus groups about what works well and what the challenges have been. As outcomes, the team will produce an evaluation report of the programs as well as pamphlet material focusing on lessons learned for the communities and stakeholders. “We will have data of who is still doing the program and their successes in making programming sustainable,” Oosman says. “We will have data on lessons learned.”  

Muhajarine, Neudorf speak at BIC Conference

In late 2012 Dr. Nazeem Muhajarine worked with Dr. Cory Neudorf to produce the first-ever child health status report. The document focused on a number of outcomes for children within the Saskatoon Health Region. One of the most notable findings was that too many children are not ready for kindergarten. This information provided the basis for a panel discussion on children’s well-being at the Best Interests of the Child Conference in Saskatoon on May 8. “It is important for us to work with kids earlier in their lives rather than later,” Muhajarine said. He outlined some of his SPHERU work on children’s development, such as the KidsFirst program, an intervention that helps connect families at risk to services and supports in specific communities around the province. “In SPHERU, we’ve done a lot of intervention research,” he said. “We learned that KidsFirst produced measurable, short-term positive developmental changes.” Muhajarine reiterated the point that early years investments make lasting improvements and result in long-term savings. “It covers a range of tried and tested policies,” he said. Neudorf also spoke to the specifics of the Healthy Families, Healthy Communities Report, which he worked on as the Saskatoon Health Region’s Chief Medical Health Officer. “Overall, a third of our kids aren’t ready to learn in one domain or another,” he said. One of the recommendations of the report, Neudorf said, is the 18 by 18 goal, which is to cut the proportion of children entering the school system as “vulnerable” to 18 per cent, from the current 30, by 2018. “This is a classic example of the need for inter-sectoral action,” he said, adding that communities need to rethink ways of re-allocating resources and how to link up vulnerable families and children with services early on. Muhajarine and Neudorf were joined by Cassandra Opikokew-Wajuntah, a graduate student at the Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy and associate director of the Indigenous Peoples’ Health Research Centre. The conference also featured keynote presentations by Queen’s University law professor Nicholas Bala, Advocate for Children and Youth Bob Pringle and Chief Commissioner David Arnot of the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission, as well as panel discussions on the youth justice system, the child welfare system and children as learners and leaders. The event was organized by the Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy, a partnership between the Universities of Regina and Saskatchewan.

SPHERU Newsletter

Issue 10
April 2014

New three-year Healthy Aging project, interview with Jim Daschuk

Photo Credit(s):
Northern and Aboriginal Health (Sarah Oosman), Rural Health (Mike Chouinard), Intervention Research (Thilina Bandara), Healthy Children (Brinnameade Smith), History of Health Inequities (Saskatchewan Archives Board)