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

Healthy community approaches reviewed

SPHERU research assistant and PhD candidate Hazel Williams-Roberts is lead author on “The Effectiveness of Healthy Community Approaches on Positive Health Outcomes in Canada and the United States”, recently published in the journal Social Sciences.  The article, co-authored by SPHERU researchers Bonnie Jeffery, Shanthi Johnson and Nazeem Muhajarine, is based on a research project funded by the Public Health Agency of Canada.  The project reviewed a number of studies evaluating the effectiveness of interventions using a healthy community approach, which aims to create supportive environments to improve health outcomes. Findings from the review indicate that these approaches have been relatively unexplored and more study needs to be done on specific projects to demonstrate their effectiveness.  The article is available for open access download at http://www.mdpi.com/2076-0760/5/1/3.

Kids' well-being key to refugees adapting

In an opinion piece published in the January 9, 2016 issue of the Saskatoon Star Phoenix SPHERU director and professor of community health & epidemiology Nazeem Muhajarine highlights the importance of addressing the mental health needs of child refugees early on in their settlement process. Childhood trauma can 'significantly harm children's ability to grow into healthy, well-functioning adults' and interventions to address the effects of trauma are critical to ensure their successful integration into society.  The full article is available at http://thestarphoenix.com/opinion/letters/0108-edit-muhajarine.

Student wins people's choice award for best …

Kylee Wilyman took home the People's Choice Award for Best Poster at the Canadian Rural Health Research Conference in Edmonton in September.  Her poster focused on a framework examining rural seniors' access to information.  Wilyman is a Master's of Science student in Community Health and Epidemiology at the University of Saskatchewan, and a research assistant with the Healthy Aging in Place research project.  Her poster can be viewed here.

Food environment research enters next phase

SPHERU will be using face-to-face interviews and smart phones, among other methods, for its latest food environment research. Spearheaded by Dr. Rachel Engler-Stringer, the mixed-methods study will be look at questions around how people in marginalized areas of cities get their food. The study, Nutrition and Inequity in the Inner City: A study of diet and food access in the context of community-based food interventions will be conducted in different phases and use several methods to collect qualitative and quantitative data. The project is being supported by funding from three sources. The first phase is the result of a $200,000 grant over two years from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation (SHRF). “We’re trying to pilot using smart phones to collect diet data, food procurement data and movement throughout the city,” says Engler-Stringer. That is followed by a SHRF grant of $40,000 to support the second phase. Finally, the Urban Aboriginal Knowledge Network, funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, is providing another $25,200 for the project. Dr. Nazeem Muhajarine is co-investigator for the first two phases, while Dr. Sylvia Abonyi is a co-investigator for the portion of the project funded by the Aboriginal Knowledge Network. The methods involved will include not only the six months of smart phone data collection but surveys, participant interviews and focus groups. For the qualitative portion, the research team will be working with 30 families, easing into the phase by taking time early on to build relationships with participants.  The project will not work, Engler-Stringer explains, if they do not trust the research team. “This is a marginalized, inner-city population,” says Engler-Stringer. “Almost all of the smart phone data studies to date have been done within affluent areas.” They will also need specific information to do the smart phone-based research – for example, they need to learn not simply the amount of income people are getting but when they receive it, so they can learn what times of the month there is money to spend. Partway through the smart phone data collection phase they will conduct interviews with participants, with the collected data providing direction for the line of questions. “It’s going to be a lot of data from a small number of people,” says Engler-Stringer. As far as the time frame for the study, the initial outreach will begin this fall, with the deployment of smart phones to begin in January and run through the first half of 2016, followed by another three to four months of data collection. Towards the end, the researchers will interview participants as to their observations and conduct focus groups, all of which will ultimately give a better idea of how families are obtaining their food. “We’re trying to use all of these sources of information to paint a comprehensive picture of household food procurement in low income, inner city, marginalized environments.”

SPHERU adds two new researchers

The Saskatchewan Population Health and Evaluation Research Unit has added two University of Regina faculty members to its ranks. Dr. Gabriela Novotna and Dr. Michelle Stewart will be joining the research unit as researchers. Novotna is an assistant professor in the University of Regina Faculty of Social Work. She received her PhD in social work from Wilfrid Laurier University in 2010 and followed that up for with Post Doctoral Fellow work at McMaster University’s Connections research program. Before her doctoral work in Canada, she was a Hubert H. Humphrey Fellow at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health where she worked on substance abuse prevention and treatment. Her research interests include practice in the field of addiction, knowledge translation and institutional theory. In previous research, she examined issues around the implementation of integrated treatment for co-occurring substance abuse, mental health and gambling problems in Ontario. “I believe that becoming affiliated with SPHERU as a researcher will provide me with opportunities to collaborate with a multidisciplinary team of researchers and benefit from their mentoring and expertise,” Novotna says. Stewart is an associate professor in the Department of Justice Studies where she teaches in the area of social justice and research methods. She received both her master’s and PhD from the University of California Davis, where she researched political and legal anthropology. Currently, she is expanding her interest to include medical anthropology by looking into how Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder is understood in various communities of practice. Stewart is Strategic Research Lead, Justice Interventions, Canada FASD Research Network as well as Director of the Community Research Unit at the University of Regina, which connects the university with community groups through research, service-learning and other collaborative activities. “I am a community-engaged and community-driven researcher that actively brings together health, advocacy and justice communities together for discussion, collaboration, research, action, and analysis,” Stewart says. Stewart and Novotna join a team that includes researchers from the Universities of Regina and Saskatchewan that represent a variety of academic backgrounds including geography, political science, anthropology, epidemiology, social work, kinesiology, and nutrition.

Novik hosts seniors’ mental health workshops

To find out what supports rural seniors need for emotional and mental health, Dr. Nuelle Novik organized workshops in a couple of Sunrise Health Region communities. The events were held in June as part of her pilot research project, Exploring emotional and mental healthcare supports for seniors in rural Saskatchewan, in the communities of Preeceville and Ituna. They took place at the local seniors’ drop-in centres, with 70 participants registering in Preeceville and 40 in Ituna. The pilot project looked at identifying the mental healthcare needs of seniors living in rural areas of the province. Funding for this came from CMHA (SK Division) and SHRF via an existing SPHERU research project. Additional funding for the workshops, including lunches, was provided by the Office of the President of the University of Regina, and from the Office of the Dean of the Faculty of Social Work. The workshops started with a presentation from Novik called Working with Seniors to Support their Mental Health. She also presented results from their research. As well, the Saskatchewan division of the Canadian Red Cross, which is partnering on the project, provided information to the seniors about their Friendly Visiting Program – an intervention that has come out of the initial project. Offered by Sunrise Health Region for the next three years, it matches seniors with volunteer visitors, who will connect with them regularly. The workshops included World Café discussions among participants on the data from the study. They also provided some opportunities for students, as Novik taught a social work class on aging to students at Parkland College in Yorkton. The students helped with setting up the workshop, registration and facilitating the World Café discussions. As for future work with the project, Novik will work with the Red Cross to evaluate the Friendly Visiting Program.

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)