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

Novik looks at rural seniors’ mental health

Dr. Nuelle Novik is taking a look at health needs for rural seniors in the province that go beyond the physical. For the one-year project, Exploring Emotional and Mental Healthcare Supports for Seniors in Rural Saskatchewan, she and the research team will be looking at seniors’ feelings of isolation, grief and loss, as well as mental health issues and how they might be able to stay connected to their communities. It is being funded by the Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation, Canadian Mental Health Association and the Canadian Red Cross. The team will collaborate on the community-based research (CBR) with seniors and those that work with, or support, seniors living in small towns and rural areas to learn about their challenges and what helps them feel connected. It will focus on Sunrise Health Region in Saskatchewan and include people who live in and around Preeceville and Norquay, as well as those in areas around Ituna and Melville. Almost 22 per cent of the Sunrise region’s population is made up of people 65 and over, compared with 14.87 per cent for the province as a whole. The project includes team members in Yorkton, such as older adults and people from within Sunrise Health Region that work in fields like psychiatry, mental health and addictions, and integrated primary health. There are also two Community Advisory Committees, one for Preeceville and Norquay and another for Melville and Ituna. So far, the team has been conducting interviews with older adults from the rural communities in two waves. They are also meeting with focus groups made up of people that work or volunteer with seniors. Following the interview and focus group meetings, the information will help identify the challenges that the seniors face in rural communities. So far this fall, the project has produced a newsletter to keep its partners informed. The provincial division of the Canadian Red Cross is also interested in potential program development and is providing some initial funding for a second phase to the project.

Clearing The Plains receives GG Award

Dr. James Daschuk’s book, Clearing The Plains, received the Governor General’s History Award for Scholarly Research (Sir John A. Macdonald Prize) on Nov. 3. He joined His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston and other winners for a ceremony at Rideau Hall to outstanding Canadians for their efforts to further an understanding of Canada’s history and heritage. “I am honoured to receive this award,” Daschuk said in a University of Regina news release. “There’s only one Canadian history book that gets this award each year and this was chosen.” The book, based on Daschuk’s thesis, looks at the history of disease, politics, starvation and the loss of life for Aboriginal people on the Prairies, as well as the role played by the federal government, especially that of Prime Minister John A. Macdonald during the era of the National Policy. The Canadian Historical Association described the book as “sweeping” and “disturbing,” adding that “Daschuk skillfully draws on ethno-history, medical history, environmental history, economic history and political economy to present a compelling overall analysis.” The Governor General’s Award is just one of many honours for the book. In April, Clearing The Plains picked up four Saskatchewan Book Awards for Daschuk and another for the publisher, the University of Regina Press. It made the shortlist for other awards, such as the Libris Awards and the B.C. National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction, and was picked as a top book of 2013 by the Globe and Mail, Quill & Quire and the Writers’ Trust of Canada. The book has sold more than 10,000 copies and has started a conversation, both with the media and the public, about present social and health inequities for First Nations people and how these are linked to our history. As Daschuk said in an interview in the April 2014 SPHERU newsletter, “We have a national myth, a collective identity that we are a fundamentally good, even ‘nice’ people. If the foundation of a society that saw itself as the breadbasket of the world is founded on a state-supervised famine, the purposeful malnutrition of thousands of indigenous people followed by a century or more of residential schools, we should all reconsider who we are as a nation.” The Governor General’s History Awards were established by Canada’s National History Society in 1996, and since their creation, more than 100 people have been honoured at Rideau Hall and at the Residence of the Governor General at the Citadelle of Québec. The society works in partnership with Canada’s leading national history organizations, such as the Canadian Historical Association, the Canadian Museums Association, and the Historica-Dominion Institute. • The University of Regina Press Facebook page includes all the reviews for the book.

Muhajarine wins UMass Amherst alumni award

SPHERU’s Dr. Nazeem Muhajarine was honoured on Sept. 27 by his alma mater, the University of Massachusetts Amherst. The School of Public Health and Health Sciences (SPHHS) picked Muhajarine for its SPHHS Award for Significant Contributions to the field of public health and the health sciences. The award is given to an alumnus for outstanding achievement. Muhajarine completed his masters in epidemiology and biostatistics at the school and was nominated by a current faculty member in SPHHS working in the same area of research. “Dr. Muhajarine has worked to build strong relationships between university, community and government to inspire action and create healthy communities for children, families and citizens alike,” says a SPHHS news release. “The findings from his research have already made a significant impact on local school and health systems in Saskatchewan, including the initiation of major school literacy programs, improved access to public library services in underprivileged areas, and neighborhood development.” The award ceremony was part of the school’s 5th Annual SPHHS Fall Celebration, with more than 100 alumni, faculty, staff and students on hand for the reception. Muhajarine was introduced by fellow SPHHS alumnus Dr. Lisa Chasan-Taber, Professor of Epidemiology, and presented with the award by Dean Marjorie Aelion. “Receiving this award is such an honor, especially from my alma mater,” Muhajarine says. “The professors I had at UMass School of Public Health didn’t just teach their courses, they made them come alive, made them relevant, and, yes, made me want to be like them. It was even nice to see some of them attending the function.” The School of Public Health and Health Sciences addresses complex health issues by integrating traditional core areas of public health with related health science disciplines, fostering a unique environment in which trans-disciplinary research collaborations can flourish. Its award-winning faculty focus on pressing public health problems such as obesity and diabetes prevention, women’s health, global health, aging and healthy living and autism spectrum disorders.

Abonyi promotes SPHERU to health promoters

SPHERU Director Dr. Sylvia Abonyi recently spoke to provincial health professionals as part of Population Health Promotion Practitioners Council meetings at Royal University Hospital in Saskatoon. The PHPPC, comprised of health promotion practitioners, meets each year for education and competency-building among members. This year’s theme was Core Competency: Knowledge and Skills. Abonyi outlined the research unit’s history, its vision and mission, as well as many of the projects. She also discussed how the unit works collaboratively and shares expertise from various disciplines. She touched on SPHERU’s research themes and cited numerous examples of past and present research, including Tuberculosis Education for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Youth, a Family Policy Assessment Tool for the Canadian Context, the Healthy Aging in Place work with rural communities, Wuskiwiy-tan! Let’s Move!, the Seasonality and Active Saskatoon Kids study and the History of Healthy Inequities projects. The event also featured SPHERU associate member Dr. Cory Neudorf, who spoke in the afternoon about research and best practices. The meeting attracted participants from various health regions (Five Hills, Saskatoon, Regina Qu’Appelle, Cypress, Prince Albert Parkland, Prairie North, Athabasca, Mamawetan Churchill River, Kelsey Trail and Heartland), the Northern Inter-Tribal Health Authority, Public Health Agency of Canada, the Ministry of Health and the Saskatchewan Cancer Agency. The PHPPC includes health promotion practitioners from the 13 health regions, as well as the Northern Inter-Tribal Health Authority (NITHA) and ex-officio members from the Saskatchewan Cancer Agency, the Ministry of Health’s Health Promotion Unit and the Public Health Agency of Canada.

Lit review points to food environment gaps

Rachel Engler-Stringer and the Smart Cities Food Environment team recently produced a literature review looking at food environment research as it pertains to children. The article, “The community and consumer food environment and children’s diet: a systemic review,” was co-authored by Ha Le, Angela Gerrard and Nazeem Muhajarine and is published in BMC Public Health (May 2014, 14:222) The body of research into children and food environments is growing, and this article contributes by providing a comprehensive review examining food environments outside home and school and how these relate to children’s diet. “It’s way of knowing what to look at, what is out there and what the gaps are,” says Engler-Stringer. While the literature review gives context for the Smart Cities Food Environment study, it can also guide other researchers in the growing field of children and food environments in terms of identifying what new information is needed. For the review, the team searched nine databases and refined a lengthy list of potential articles down to 26 that covered a set of criteria including community (location, accessibility) and consumer (price, promotion, placement) “nutrition” or food environments, as well as children and diet. Of the articles, 22 found at least one association between food environment and diet for children. A significant finding is the variability in the ways researchers measure community and consumer food environments, as well with how they assess diet. For example, while GIS was used in many of the studies looking at location or access, there was a wide range used for buffer zones, from 160 to 3,000 metres. As well, only six of the studies used either indices of food prices or store audits to capture food environments. “It’s hard to interpret results because we’re talking about such varying studies using varying methods,” says Engler-Stringer. While the literature review does point to the limitations of the current research, Engler-Stringer and the team do find some evidence to link community and consumer food environments with dietary intake for children up to 18 years of age. They also make recommendations for further research, including not only measuring observable parameters but also capturing perceptions of the food environment for children, as well as conducting more studies that combine community and consumer environments, using valid, reliable tools that can be used in multiple settings, and studying different age groups for children separately because of the different levels of mobility and independence. “That to me is what’s most interesting,” Engler-Stringer says. “Children navigate their food environments very differently from adults.”

Johnson provides health tips for older adult…

SPHERU researcher Shanthi Johnson recently contributed the piece “Healthy Eating and Regular Physical Activity: A Winning Combination for Older Adults” to Active Living Tips for Older Adults (ALCOA). The tip sheet (Issue No. 6 March 2014) is produced by the Active Living Coalition for Older Adults. These are written in straightforward language and are available in English, French, Italian, Spanish, Punjabi, traditional and simplified Chinese. Besides eating and exercise, they provide information on topics such as preventing falls, strength training, brain fitness, aerobics and heart health. Johnson’s tip sheet includes food information on how our body’s dietary needs change with time, the importance of a balance diet, the need for whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables and foods to avoid or reduce. As far as physical activity, Johnson covers topics such as recommended amounts of activity, as well as the kinds of activities that help with strength, aerobics and balance. She also discusses the changes to bone and muscle mass that come with aging, and ways to offset these changes through diet. The tip sheet also includes links to ALCOA, Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide and organizations that can provide more information. ALCOA is a not-for-profit organization, comprised of 24 national and 35 local and provincial organizations. It was created to inform and educate older adults about the benefits of active healthy living.

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)