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

Students contribute to SPHERU timeline

SPHERU’s Saskatchewan Historical Health Timeline is the beneficiary of some additions courtesy of Dr. James Daschuk’s students. For his Health in Canada class at the University of Regina, he had his students research some aspect of the history of health of interest to them and compose a paper, put together a presentation and contribute to the timeline itself. “They did a study of the history they’re interested in,” Daschuk says. For example, one dental student looked into the history of population health dentistry. Another looked into how post-traumatic stress disorder was dealt with historically – for example, as “shell shock” around the time of the First World War. Other topics include a history of pharmacy, the health implications of Chinese immigration and a history of polio and tuberculosis. One student even looked at old advertisements from the days in which Lysol was soft-sold as means of post-coital cleansing. “There’s a lot of information,” he said. “I wanted the core of their paper visually represented.” The students wrote papers and gave a five-minute presentation, as well as provided material for the timeline. The project was only part of the itinerary for the 21 students in the 300-level class. Along with the history projects, they also investigated sexual assault policy on campuses, even sending their papers to the assistant vice-president to develop sexual assault policy for University of Regina. As well, they looked into best practices in food security on campus, information which will be presented to the University of Regina Students’ Union. “They can actually influence policy,” Daschuk adds. Also as part of the class, the students picked a health news story each week as a topic for discussion. “We tied whatever story we had into the social determinants of health or policy,” he said. The students represent a range of areas within health, and the classwork is designed to give them a broader perspective on their area of study. For example, a couple of biochemistry students wanted to learn more about the social determinants of health in order to prepare for medical school, and they found a number of their questions for the medical school interview had a social determinants of health lens and were ones the students had already discussed in Daschuk’s class. As Daschuk says, the emphasis on the social determinants of health is designed to examine the implications of decisions the students will make once they begin their careers and, ultimately, this background will create more rounded professionals. “It’s more progressive. It’s going to create better doctors and health professionals,” he says.

SPHERU history work cited in The Lancet

Dr. Paul Hackett was interviewed for the prestigious journal, The Lancet, about some of SPHERU’s historical research into the social determinants of health for Aboriginal people. The online article by Angela Pirisi looks at the health disparities for Aboriginal people in Canada and focuses on different work across the country, including that of SPHERU. Specifically, it touches on the research looking into the epidemic of type 2 diabetes among the First Nations population. It represents part of the work that Hackett and Dr. Sylvia Abonyi have been doing in terms of exploring the historical antecedents for present-day health disparities for Aboriginal people.  Some of this has seen them examine residential school entrance exam data (1919-1953), in the process of creating a unique and substantial database of historical body mass index (BMI) values. Hackett and Abonyi, with co-author Dr. Roland Dyck, presented some of their BMI findings in Fredericton in November at the Canadian Association for Physical Anthropology conference, while Abonyi will be presenting more BMI findings on behalf of the group at a conference on circumpolar health in Finland this year. A paper summarizing key findings has also been prepared for publication. Hackett plans to do a presentation before the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and the Centre for Aboriginal Health Research (CAHR) at the University of Manitoba (http://umanitoba.ca/centres/cahr/) and the manuscript will be submitted for publication following an informal review by First Nation colleagues and partners: “We’re going to get their feedback before we submit it,” Hackett said. In November 2014 Hackett presented in Toronto on the legacy of tuberculosis in residential schools and how it spread, again drawing on historical data. Hackett has also submitted a paper called “Tuberculosis, Years Ago: Reconciliation and First Nations Narratives of Tuberculosis in the Canadian Prairie Provinces,” as well as an in-house paper showcasing SPHERU’s history work. “Everything we’re doing now is laying the groundwork for the larger work,” Hackett says. While the data provide a valuable look into historical population health, the research also raises some ethical questions about stewardship of historical Aboriginal population health data, most of which is publicly accessible, and how it should be used. Hackett recognizes the challenges and emphasizes the need for collaboration with partners in the Aboriginal community, both in the research phase and after the papers have been published. With regard to the residential school data, one idea could be to have the Truth and Reconciliation Commission act as the permanent storehouse, so that residential school survivors could easily access their own records.

Healthy Aging team presents in Chicago

The Healthy Aging in Place team presented at the Aging in America Conference once again this year. The event, one of the largest multi-disciplinary conferences on aging in North America, was held in Chicago from March 23 to 27. It attracted more than 3,000 people, including policy makers, practitioners and researchers. Over five days, it offered more than 500 workshops, forums, symposia and sessions on a range of topics pertaining to aging. Dr. Bonnie Jeffery, Dr. Shanthi Johnson and Dr. Nuelle Novik gave two presentations based on SPHERU’s rural healthy aging work. On March 24, their workshop focused on brain health and rural aging. It looked at healthy older adults’ perceptions, myths and meanings of brain health, key practices and interventions that rural seniors highlight as important to supporting brain health, and innovative awareness and communication strategies for supporting brain health in rural communities. At their March 26 presentation, they discussed rural healthy aging in terms of access to information by looking at the nature and depth of information seniors require, the supports and barriers in accessing it, and recommendations for improvement. Our findings have underscored the importance of person-to-person communication and ongoing relationships, as well as consistent and accurate information. Last year, the team went to the Aging in America Conference in San Diego and gave presentations on developing a rural healthy aging assessment framework, rural seniors’ perspectives on age-friendly communities and healthy aging in place, and urban seniors’ food security. Aging in America covers issues affecting the senior population, such as aging in community, business and aging, health and wellness, healthcare and aging, and multicultural aging. It is presented by the American Society on Aging. (For more background on the conference, see the article from Forbes.com.)

Smart Cities hosts food environment event

This May, the Smart Cities, Healthy Kids team is bringing in health, nutrition and planning experts for a three-day event in Saskatoon to look at food environments in Canada. Food Environments in Canada begins on the evening of Thursday, May 21, with keynote speaker Steven Cummins, a professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. He will give a free talk about food-based interventions. There will be a symposium the next day at Station 20 West, followed by a half-day methodological workshop on the Saturday. It also includes a panel discussion and an interactive poster session. The event follows up on a Smart Cities, Healthy Kids community presentation last fall, also at Station 20 West, which presented findings from the study on Saskatoon’s food environment as it pertains to children, as well as draft recommendations aimed at tackling childhood obesity. On the agenda for the full-day symposium on May 22 will be speakers SPHERU’s Rachel Engler-Stringer and Nazeem Muhajarine; Jason Gilliland, director of the Urban Development Program and professor of Geography, Health Sciences and Paediatrics at the University of Western Ontario; Jennifer Black, assistant professor in the Food, Nutrition and Health program at the University of British Columbia; Kelly Skinner, a CIHR postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Indigenous Learning and the Department of Psychology at Lakehead University; Yan Kestens, associate professor at the Social and Preventive Medicine Department at École de Santé Publique de l’Universite de Montreal; and Leia Minaker, a scientist with the Propel Centre for Population Health Impact. The objective of Food Environments in Canada is to bring together researchers, students and practitioners to discuss current food environment research and examine the strengths and challenges of food environments in the country. The conference in sponsored by the Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Health Canada, the Saskatchewan Population Health and Evaluation Research Unit and the University of Saskatchewan. For registration, see www.foodenvironments2015.ca. (A limited number of bursaries are available. If you are interested please email tracy.ridalls@usask.ca prior to registration.)

HAIP team launches senior exercise program

The Healthy Aging in Place team was active during the winter months completing the second wave of data collection and planning the final details for implementing the group exercise program in Watrous, Young and Wolseley. The work is part of SPHERU’s Improving Rural Seniors’ Mobility and Social Interaction through Intervention Research, the first phase of our group grant. The community-based exercise program is designed for rural older adults to support mobility and enhance social interaction. A total of 54 participants and nine peer leaders (totalling 63 volunteers in all) from the three communities began group exercise classes the week of February 23. Peer leaders were trained in January by Forever….in motion program staff from the Saskatoon and Regina Qu’Appelle Health Regions. The first exercise class for Watrous and Young was attended by Dr. Bonnie Jeffery; Project Coordinator Jeffrey Walters attended the first class in Wolseley. There was much excitement and positive energy in the air at all three locations. The three-month exercise program will be completed the week of May 11, while the second and third waves of data collection will be completed in late May and late August. The information being collected includes several measures of mobility, assessment of level of social interaction and participant feedback on the strengths and challenges of the program in their community. 

SPHERU part of major funding announcement

SPHERU is providing leadership in a provincial network in Strategy for Patient-Oriented Research (SPOR) receiving funding between 2015 and 2020 to encourage better patient outcomes. The network, specifically focused on Primary and Integrated Health Care Innovations, seeks to align “upstream” determinants of health with the health care system for better patient care, better outcomes and with lesser cost. SPHERU was involved during a first phase of SPOR funding to establish the network and set priorities for research. Recently, the stage two proposal, Saskatchewan SPOR Network in Primary and Integrated Health Care (PIHC) Innovation: Management & Operations grant application, was approved by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. CIHR will provide $500,000 over the five years to match the $500,000 provided by the Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation, and partners, the University of Saskatchewan and the Saskatoon Health Region. “This support will enable us to build on the work we have done to date, and accelerate the development of the network,” says SPHERU’s Dr. Nazeem Muhajarine who is the scientific lead of the Saskatchewan network. “The reviewers have clearly recognized the quality of the Saskatchewan network team, the relevance and potential impact of the work we have put forward to improve the health of people in our province.” Muhajarine and Dr. Cory Neudorf are both members of the network’s leadership council, which includes representation from the research, clinical and policy communities. One of the goals for the network will be to involve patients in all aspects of the research process. The pan-Canadian SPOR Network in Primary and Integrated Health Care Innovations is a “network of networks” that builds on member networks and national assets in community-based primary and integrated health care to foster a new alliance between research, policy and practice. It will create dynamic and responsive learning systems across the country that develop, evaluate and scale up new approaches to the delivery of horizontally and vertically integrated services within and across sectors of health care (e.g., public health, home and community care, primary, secondary, and tertiary care) as well as outside the health sector (e.g., education, social services, housing). The PIHC network is the first one to be set up in Saskatchewan. Among the priorities identified by the network are research across the lifespan as well as on Aboriginal, northern and rural communities, work that will be a natural fit for SPHERU’s current areas of research. During this second phase, researchers will be able to apply for funds for work that could include research, implementation or knowledge translation. The research could involve people from a range of disciplines from surgery to geography. A third phase of research, for which a call for applications is expected in late 2015, will involve projects in the two- to five-year-range which will involve multiple provinces.

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)