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

Reducing social isolation in seniors

University of Regina researchers are collaborating with provincial agencies to evaluate the effectiveness of programs to reduce social isolation experienced by urban and rural seniors in central and southern Saskatchewan. The initiative is funded in part by the Government of Canada’s New Horizons for Seniors Program and will benefit from $504,421 over the next three years. “The Government of Canada is proud to support the University of Regina through the New Horizons for Seniors Program. With the rising senior population in Canada, our government understands the importance of supporting seniors who are or who may be at risk of becoming socially isolated. By joining forces with the University of Regina, we can help raise awareness about important services in place to reduce and prevent seniors’ social isolation.” – The Honourable Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of Families, Children and Social Development Through evaluation of existing programs, Enhancing Information Access for Rural and Urban Seniors will result in communities becoming more aware of the needs of seniors and prepared to address those needs. The evaluation will also determine how to strengthen seniors’ connections with others, and how to create services so seniors will be seen as valuable, contributing members of society. The evaluation is being conducted by the Saskatchewan Population Health and Evaluation Research Unit (SPHERU) at the University of Regina. Project lead Dr. Bonnie Jeffery, along with Dr. Tom McIntosh and Dr. Nuelle Novik, will form the Evaluation Oversight Committee, along with Dr. Chad Nilson of Living Skies Centre for Social Inquiry. The researchers will be partnering with three agencies who each have received funding for their projects: Saskatchewan Seniors Mechanism: is fighting ageism by creating a culture of inclusion with rural, small urban and Francophone communities to help them become age-friendly; reducing ageism by changing the way older adults are portrayed in Saskatchewan media. Alzheimer Society of Saskatchewan: is working with individuals, and urban and rural communities, to become dementia friendly; raising awareness about the warning signs of dementia and the importance of diagnosis. Canadian Red Cross – Saskatchewan: is providing friendly visiting for isolated older adults. Upon completion of the evaluation, SPHERU will present its findings and results at a one-day policy summit where policy and community representatives from Central and Southern Saskatchewan will be in attendance. SPHERU is a bi-university health research unit based at the University of Regina and the University of Saskatchewan, which focuses on intervention research; population, rural, northern health research; and history of health inequities. Contact info: Dr. Bonnie Jeffery at bonnie.jeffery@uregina.ca 

SPHERU researchers featured in magazine

SPHERU’S Dr. Michelle Stewart and Dr. Shanthi Johnson have been featured in the University of Regina’s new research magazine. The first issue of Discourse featured Dr. Michelle Stewart and her study on people living with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). In the article entitled “Bridging the gap: Research seeks to understand FASD,” the feature explores how FASD is understood, and how these interpretations can be improved and used to better support for people living with FASD.  “One of the big challenges is that it is predominantly an invisible disability,” Stewart said in Discourse. “You may not ‘look’ like you have a disability.” For the full feature on Dr. Stewart’s research, visit pages 9 to 11 in the Fall 2016/Winter 2017 issue of Discourse, available here.   Helping seniors age in place Discourse also focused on Dr. Shanthi Johnson and her award-winning work in a profile entitled, “Innovation Award: Impacting the lives of seniors.” The article notes that Johnson was awarded the 2016 Award of Innovation for her project, “Saskatchewan Advantage: Improving Functional Capacity and Preventing Falls Among Rural and Urban Seniors.” The project increased mobility and independence in seniors by teaching simple but effective physical exercises.  Because of this minor addition, seniors are able to stay in their homes longer as a result. The profile on Dr. Johnson and her study is available on page 7 in the Fall 2016/Winter 2017 issue of Discourse. 

Seniors voice concerns about falls

This summer, SPHERU researchers published an article in Educational Gerontology entitled “Voices of senior rural men and women on falls and fall-related injuries: ‘If I fall outside and get hurt, what would I do?’” SPHERU’s Dr. Shanthi Johnson -- along with Dr. Bonnie Jeffrey, Dr. Juanita Bacsu, Dr. Sylvia Abonyi and Dr. Nuelle Novik -- contributed to the study. The qualitative study examined the experiences of 42 rural seniors as it related to falls and fall-related injuries. Researchers analyzed the nature, causes and consequences of falls and injuries. “Falls are common and costly,” said Dr. Shanthi Johnson. “The study highlighted the nuanced variation in how falls are voiced and experienced by rural seniors.” A “fall” was described as a seniors’ life experience, ranging from a physical fall, a near or impending fall, or no fall with associated fear and other consequences. The study found that falls were not only common among elderly people but falls and almost-falls had various physical and psychological consequences. Seniors also tended to rely on support from family members and friends instead of turning to health professionals and the health care system. Researchers found that some seniors use adaptive strategies to avoid falls as opposed to well established fall prevention strategies. For example, some seniors may move their laundry to the main floor instead of using an established strategy such as exercise. The study also added a voice to the scarcity of research involving rural seniors and qualitative methodology, Dr. Johnson said. The full article can be viewed here: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/03601277.2016.1205403

SPHERU researcher takes on new role

While half a country away, Dr. Daniel Fuller is SPHERU’s first out of province researcher. Recently, Fuller relocated to Memorial University start a new position as a Canada Research Chair in Population Physical Activity in St. John’s, Newfoundland.  However, his work within both the research unit and the province will continue through ongoing collaborative research with SPHERU colleagues.  As a teen, Fuller spent plenty of time riding a bicycle through Saskatoon’s inner city neighbourhoods to go kayaking on the South Saskatchewan River. During this time, he began thinking about how urban environments can promote or limit physical activity. One of Fuller’s first priorities as a research chair will be to develop a database of urban environment measures for Canada. Access to fast food restaurants and walkability within a city are both examples of urban environmental measures. “Currently, we do not have this type of database for research in Canada, which limits our ability to conduct large national studies,” Fuller said. Once he’s compiled the data, he plans to integrate it with the provincial and national health administrative data at the Newfoundland and Labrador Centre for Health Information and the Statistics Canada Research Data Centre. “I’ve done a lot of work with urban environment and health administrative data but it’s an exciting challenge to start a large data linkage project that can contribute to my own research and research capacity in Canada,” Fuller said. While in Saskatchewan, in recent years Fuller has collaborated with researchers with the Department of Community Health and Epidemiology and SPHERU on several studies including studies on neighbourhood built environment, seasonality and physical activity in children, and impact of poverty and other social determinants on health outcomes of Saskatchewan population. Fuller contributes chapter to health intervention book In the midst of preparing for his new position, Fuller also contributed a chapter to the book “Population Health Intervention Research: Geographical perspectives.” The goal of the book is to encourage the scientific community to be innovative with their way of thinking about population health issues. Fuller joined co-author Erin Hobin at Public Health Ontario to write guidelines to help researchers plan and conduct natural experiment studies. “We wanted to write something similar for natural experiments because nothing exists in that area,” Fuller said. “We also include examples from our own work to make the link between the concepts we propose and our experience doing this type of research.” Hobin has conducted research studying healthy nutrition labelling on food, while Fuller has studied public bicycle share programs in North America. 

Pre-residential school children were healthy

In a recently published article in the International Journal of Circumpolar Health, findings from a study conducted by SPHERU researchers Paul Hackett and Sylvia Abonyi, and fellow University of Saskatchewan researcher Roland Dyck reveal that Indigenous children were healthy prior to entering residential schools. Researchers analyzed microfilm records of more than 1,700 children entering the schools between 1919 and the 1950s. The findings indicate that 80 per cent of the children were at a healthy weight, suggesting that many of the health problems that disproportionately affect Indigenous people today can be linked back to the residential school experience. In an editorial released alongside the article researchers reflect on the challenges of ethically carrying out archival research using public records where issues of consent and confidentiality are present. In the paper, researchers outline the strategies they took in an effort to mitigate these issues, including broad consultation with Indigenous partners, colleagues and organizations as the work unfolded. "Overwhelmingly, our Indigenous colleagues affirm that the data from the health examinations tells an important part of the residential school story and that they should be used for this type of scholarly research, despite the circumstances under which they were collected." The study has generated national, and international, interest with articles and interviews appearing in a number of media outlets, several of which are provided below. http://globalnews.ca/news/2792426/kids-were-healthy-before-residential-schools-study/?sf30287498=1 https://wcms.usask.ca/entity/edit.act?type=page&id=991ebaf280e9d2552d85b57600f14581 http://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/indigenous-kids-were-healthy-before-they-were-sent-to-residential-schools-study-1.2965101 http://mbcradio.com/index.php/mbc-news/16513-new-research-suggests-indigenous-children-were-well-nourished-before-residential-schools http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/indigenous-kids-were-healthy-before-arrival-at-residential-schools-study/article30644277/ http://www.thecanadianpress.com/english/online/OnlineFullStory.aspx?filename=DOR-MNN-CP.ca9ec6be773347f785c53faec16b4bcf.CPKEY2008111303&newsitemid=37890727&languageid=1 https://psmag.com/how-boarding-schools-in-canada-made-native-children-less-healthy-d2ebab1f8ed1#.a4i0prnza     Full Article:  Anthropometric indices of First Nations children and youth on first entry to Manitoba/Saskatchewan residential schools—1919 to 1953 Editorial:  Reflections on ethical challenges encountered in Indigenous health research using archival records

SPHERU's Food Environment research published

Contributions by SPHERU food environment researchers have been included in a in a new series of papers entitled Retail Food Environments in Canada: Maximizing the Impact of Research, Policy and Practice, recently released in a supplement of the Canadian Journal of Public Health. The supplement, co-coordinated by Rachel Engler-Stringer, provides an overview of unhealthy food landscapes across Canada, and includes a commentary on the state of food environments research in Canada Retail food environments research: Promising future with more work to be done.  Co-authored by SPHERU's Daniel Fuller, Engler-Stringer and Nazeem Muhajarine, the commentary outlines key challenges in the field of food environments research. In addition to research on food deserts, or neighbourhoods where access to healthy food retailers is lacking, SPHERU researchers Engler-Stringer and Muhajarine have also looked at the impact of food swamps, neighbourhoods where fast-food outlets and convenience stores are clustered, and the concept of food mirages, where healthy food is available but not affordable. The research highlighted in the journal has generated interest within Canada and beyond, and has been featured in a number of stories in media outlets including CBC, Global, and Newswise.

SPHERU Newsletter

Issue 13
Oct 2015

Q&A with researcher Dr. Rachel Engler-Stringer

Photo Credit(s):
Northern and Aboriginal Health (SPHERU staff), Rural Health (Juanita Bacsu), Intervention Research (Hilary Gough), Healthy Children (Thilina Bandara), History of Health Inequities (Saskatchewan Archives Board)