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

Muhajarine, team evaluate FASD support

SPHERU has produced a 104-page report evaluating services and supports for Saskatchewan people with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and their families. It is part of a comprehensive provincial review of programming for FASD and autism spectrum. In 2013-14, the Ministry of Health contracted SPHERU and two other consultants to evaluate types of services and supports. As a result, Muhajarine and a team of Kathryn Green, Duvaraga Sivajohanathan, Shankar Babu Chelladurai and Tara Todd produced the report, “Evaluation of the Government of Saskatchewan’s FASD-Related Services: Cognitive Disabilities Consultants and Community-Based Support Programs, which is available on our website under Publications. They evaluated a number of programs throughout the province, such as the Cognitive Disabilities Strategy (CDS) and regional Cognitive Disabilities Consultants (CDCs). The consultants work with families living with cognitive disabilities by developing support plans and help them access funding to address needs. As well, the team examined four community programs for the report. As far as methodology, the team relied on semi-structured interviews and focus groups held with administrators, staff, clients, partners and others. These took place from September to December 2013. The CDS’s three main strengths were: knowledge, helpful consultants; an inter-ministerial foundation that promotes working across sectors; and funding that permits clients to address previously unmet needs. However, there were also challenges, such as: delays; complicated applications and renewals; dissatisfaction with funding; confusion about roles and responsibilities; more transparency, better communication and standardization; finding qualified mentors; a need from more consultants; and providing service for rural areas. When it came to the community-level programs, the team found elements that led to successes such as dedicated, compassionate staff that take a holistic, flexible approach and connect clients with other agencies and organizations. There were challenges though, such as the unpredictability of clients’ cognitive disabilities; clients’ lack of external resources; inflexible systems that don’t accommodate people; and limits on funding limit, which means limits to services that can be provided, low wages and few benefits for staff, and ultimately to high turnover. Still, the common view was the community programs should be expanded. The report concludes that while the impacts of the programs are sometimes hard to measure, it identifies a number of positive effects on the lives of clients and suggests a cost-benefit analysis be completed for a future evaluation.

SPHERU responds to Globe opinion piece

The following letter was submitted to the Globe and Mail in November, 2014 in response to an opinion piece concerning the role of the public health community.Peter Shawn Taylor’s opinion piece argues that public health should leave aside politics and economics, and stick to overseeing public health measures. He argues, “While there may be a link between poverty and health, there is no such connection to be found in the gap between rich and poor.” In fact we know that overall population health declines as that gap increases. For Taylor it is enough to simply treat the disease’s symptoms and to leave the cause alone, but that is to misunderstand the very history of public health itself. To be effective public health must also point out the causes and conditions that create public health risks. As Rudolf Virchow, the renowned 19th century physician and public health activist, said more than 100 years ago: “Medicine is a social science, and politics is nothing else but medicine on a large scale.… If medicine is really to accomplish its great task, it must intervene in political and social life. It must point out the hindrances that impede the normal social functioning of vital processes, and effect their removal.” To pretend that public health does not exist in a social, political and economic context is to deny the very basic epidemiology of disease. The Victorians understood that if you wanted society at large to be safe from diseases like typhus and the plague it required tackling the causes of those diseases and ameliorating the conditions that give rise to them. The same is true of TB, HIV, Ebola and a host of other diseases today.Dr. Sylvia Abonyi, SaskatoonDr. Tom McIntosh, ReginaSaskatchewan Population Health and Evaluation Research Unit

Healthy aging in place team has busy fall

The healthy aging in place team has had a busy fall, and continues to work with partner communities as well as promote the research program to support rural seniors’ health. This fall, the team worked to recruit participants for the Healthy Aging in Place Exercise Intervention Program by hosting several community presentations led by Dr. Bonnie Jeffery and Dr. Shanthi Johnson. The exercise program works with rural older adults to support mobility and social interaction. At present, there are more than 30 participants in the rural communities of Watrous and Young, with another 13 taking part in Wolseley. In October, Johnson provided the team with training to conduct mobility and fall assessments with older adults. The first wave of data collection in all three communities will be completed by mid-December. Recently in November, Juanita Bacsu and research team members Nuelle Novik and Marc Viger presented at the Community-Based Research Showcase at the University of Regina. The research team set up a display table and a poster presentation, “Lessons from a Longitudinal Rural Healthy Aging Study.” The poster outlined the work of the healthy aging team’s study from 2011-2014 in the Saskatchewan communities of Watrous, Young and Wolseley, including lessons learned and implications for stakeholders, including policy-makers, health practitioners and community leaders. The showcase featured presentations on a range of topics, including the Saskatchewan Indigenous Strategy on HIV and AIDS, A Living Wage for Regina and a Seniors Neglect and Abuse Response Line. In October, the healthy aging team took part in the 7th International Symposium: Safety and Health and Agricultural and Rural Populations: Global Perspectives (SHARP 2014) in Saskatoon, giving one oral and two poster presentations. These discussed rural older adults’ perceptions of cognitive health, retention strategies for longitudinal rural healthy aging studies and the support of rural needs through community-based research. The symposium attracted researchers, community leaders, policy-makers and health practitioners and looked at the impact of global issues and challenges facing the health and safety of rural peoples in the 21st century and how to bridge gaps between basic research, applied research, policy and the community.

SASK study looks at seasonal activity

The latest project for the Smart Cities, Healthy Kids team takes a look at what role the time of the year has on children’s physical activity. Seasonality and Active Saskatoon Kids (SASK) is an obesity intervention research project that measures and identifies the places in the city where children aged 10-14 years take part in physical activity across all the seasons. The earlier Smart Cities studies have focused on knowledge gaps looking at how cities’ neighbourhoods offer opportunities for physical activity or access to healthy food sources. This latest study will fill in another gap by examining the links between children’s physical activity and the seasons. In Canada, seasonal weather variations are extreme and can affect activity. Within the country, current research into adults’ activities shows that the provinces with the strongest links between seasonality and physical activity are Saskatchewan and British Columbia. The SASK study will focus on children to determine where they are most active and most sedentary across the four seasons as well as on weekends and weekdays. It will also examine whether seasonality affects the location of activity and sedentary behaviour, while taking into account the role of household, school and neighborhood built environments, and whether environment features modify the seasonality effect on locations. It will incorporate methods from the earlier Smart Cities studies, such as accelerometry, but will also use GPS data loggers for information on locations. Eight hundred Grade 5-8 students from 32 Saskatoon schools will be asked to complete an online physical activity questionnaire with their parent or guardian outside of school time. They will also wear an accelerometer and a data logger around their waists for one week during four different periods throughout the year. From the earlier accelerometry research, the Smart Cities team determined activity levels based on gender, age groups and free play versus registered activities. The current study will now provide answers on how children’s behaviour is influenced by seasonal weather and where their activity and sedentary behaviour takes place.

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.

SPHERU Newsletter

Issue 11
October 2014

History project update, new seasonality study

Photo Credit(s):
Northern and Aboriginal Health (Hilary Gough), Rural Health (Juanita Bacsu), Intervention Research (Andrea Scerbe), Healthy Children (Brad Proudlove), History of Health Inequities (Saskatchewan Archives Board)