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

SPHERU selected for Aging in America

SPHERU was again selected to make presentations on its work with seniors at one of the largest multi-disciplinary conferences on aging in North America. The Aging in America Conference took place in San Diego from March 10 to 15 and attracted more than 2,500 policy makers, practitioners and researchers. This is the second year that SPHERU has been invited. The conference, organized by the American Society on Aging, brings together best practices and research in the field of aging. On March 11, Bonnie Jeffery led a workshop on developing a rural healthy aging assessment framework created to assess the impact of government, community and kin-level interventions on how they encourage rural seniors to age in place. This framework identifies the key domains of social interaction, independence, community involvement, mental health, and cognitive health along with relevant dimensions and indicators. On March 12, Juanita Bascu’s workshop examined rural seniors’ perspectives and provided a look at what rural seniors have to say in terms of creating age-friendly communities and how they can support healthy aging in place. The workshop stressed the importance of community-level input and hearing from seniors on specific environmental and social factors that affect their ability to age in place. Nuelle Novik presented on the topic of urban seniors’ food security on March 14. It examined how eco-mapping can be used to understand and improve food security among the senior population, in order to reduce food insecurity, which can leave detrimental effects on health, independence and quality of life. The research demonstrated the ways eco-mapping is used to graph personal and family relationships as well as the linkages between formal and informal food supports. The Aging in America Conference addresses a range of issues that affect the senior population, including aging in community, business and aging, health and wellness, healthcare and aging, and multicultural aging. Throughout the week, the conference featured more than 500 workshops, four general sessions, 140 poster sessions, as well as networking event, peer groups, roundtable discussions and an exhibition hall.

Smart Cities featured in Parliament event

MPs and senators recently had the chance to learn about how a city’s built environment can influence children’s activity levels.SPHERU’s Dr. Nazeem Muhajarine and the Smart Cities, Healthy Kids team were invited to submit a poster about the study for a kiosk-style event, Feb. 24, in Centre Block on Parliament Hill. The event, Building a Stronger Future for Canadian Children & Youth through Social Innovation, was sponsored by ResearchImpact-RéseauImpactRecherche. “There was a steady flow of senators and some members of Parliament,” Muhajarine says. “Many of them stopping to really learn about our work in Saskatoon.” He met with good response from the approximately twenty Parliamentarians he spoke to during the afternoon. “One member of parliament from Toronto region, in particular, showed interest in visiting Saskatoon to learn what we are doing ‘right’ here,” he says. The Smart Cities poster, in both official languages, summarizes the research opportunity for the project – in this case, low levels of physical activity, an important cause of child obesity – among children and how this might be influenced by the design of a city. The poster emphasizes the impact of our research and how we are sharing findings with our partners to help create a city that encourages people to live more active lives, both for personal and environmental health. A two-page summary of a research article was also produced to provide more details. SPHERU represented the University of Saskatchewan, joining six other universities from across the country at the event: Memorial, York, Guelph, Wilfrid Laurier, Kwantlen Polytechnic and Victoria. The posters examined a range of issues, such as bullying and abuse prevention, better home supervision for two- to five-year-old children and promoting mental health among Inuit youth by teaching traditional knowledge. ResearchImpact-RéseauImpactRecherche is a pan-Canadian network of universities committed to maximizing the impact of academic research for the social, economic, environmental and health benefits of Canadians.

Daschuk up for several Sask Book Awards

Jim Daschuk’s Clearing The Plains has been nominated for the province’s top book honours this year. The nominations for the 21st annual Saskatchewan Book Awards were announced on Feb. 13. Daschuk’s book, which looks at disease, politics, starvation and the loss of Aboriginal life on the Prairies as well as the federal government’s responsibility, is published by University of Regina Press. It is up for awards in the following categories for writers: University of Saskatchewan College of Arts & Science and Library Non-Fiction Award; National Bank Financial Wealth Management First Book Award; Drs. Morris & Jacqui Shumiatcher Regina Book Award; and University of Regina Arts and Luther Award for Scholarly Writing. The book is also nominated for two awards in the publishers’ categories: Ministry of Parks, Culture and Sport Publishing Award; and University of Regina Faculty of Education and Campion College Award for Publishing in Education. The Saskatchewan Book Awards nominations are the latest honour for Daschuk’s book, which has been on bestseller lists, has garnered media attention, was nominated for the BC National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction last fall and even inspired a song by musician and MP Charlie Angus. The 21st Awards Ceremony will be held on Saturday, April 26 at Conexus Arts Centre in Regina. For more information on the event or tickets see the SBA website at www.bookawards.sk.

Voluntary sector article featured in WPA

Saskatchewan was the birthplace of Medicare, but in its early years volunteer groups played central roles when it came to the social determinants of health. This forms the subject of a recent article by SPHERU’s Gloria DeSantis, Tara Todd and Paul Hackett in the Western Policy Analyst (Vol. 5, Issue 2, December 2013). “The voluntary sector has been part of the health and social services system forever,” DeSantis says. “It’s just not been formally and visibly considered part of the system until the last few decades.” The Western Policy Analyst is an online publication produced by the Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy at the universities of Regina and Saskatchewan. The WPA examines western Canadian trends and issues and is aimed at policy makers and others interested in policy formation, such as provincial and federal government departments, business groups, academics, voluntary organizations and municipalities. The SPHERU article provides an overview of the voluntary social service sector’s development between 1905 and 1950 in the context of the social determinants of health. It also looks geographically at how the province was settled and what role this played in the development of the volunteer sector – For example, more than 99 per cent of the groups were found in the southern half of the province, especially in rural areas. These included religious organizations, service clubs, secular groups, ethnic/cultural groups and organizations benefitting the wider community. They were involved in creating healthier communities through service delivery, service planning and healthy public policy advocacy. Some additional  observations include: The early registry of incorporated voluntary organizations was predominantly member-serving, not general public or broad community-focused; There were “silos” and fragmented services within and between governments and voluntary services, yet there were interdependencies too; An enduring struggle between evidence-based policy choices and politically-based choices in the human service sector; the responsibility for the determinants of health (e.g., income, housing, food) has ebbed and flowed over time, across both the government and voluntary sectors. “In sum, a glance at history does indeed inspire unsettling questions about our present human service system, but it should also inspire us to choose our future,” the article concludes. This research project, part of a larger SPHERU study on the historical origins of health inequities in Saskatchewan, was also presented and debated at Congress 2013 in Victoria, BC. This research was presented by DeSantis at the annual conference of the Association for Nonprofit and Social Economy Research/Association de recherche sur les organismes sans but lucratif et sur l'économie sociale (ANSER-ARES) last June. “I think some of this material was eye-opening for them because they didn’t know much of this political history, that many aspects of the voluntary sector could be traced back 100 years and finally, it begs questions about why change has not occurred,” she says. The WPA article is a summary of a larger research report that is now on the SPHERU website. This document is being posted on the SPHERU website with the hope that it generates public conversations about the role of the voluntary sector in creating healthier communities.

SHRF grant supports seniors aging research

There is growing divide in health outcomes for people in this province based on where people live. The differences can be especially pronounced for people such as seniors living in rural areas or Aboriginal seniors in northern communities – groups on which SPHERU has focused much of its work. To continue our intervention research, SPHERU received a three-year Phase Three Group Grant for $749,335 from the Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation. According to SHRF, the purpose of Phase Three Group Grants is to provide support for groups of researchers to produce high-quality health research, contribute to knowledge translation and build research capacity at a level that would not be possible for individual researchers if they were working on their own. Bonnie Jeffery, Faculty of Social Work, at the University of Regina and SPHERU director Nazeem Muhajarine, Department of Community Health and Epidemiology at the University of Saskatchewan will co-lead the project. The funding will support SPHERU’s research program, Healthy Aging in Place: Improving Rural and Northern Aboriginal Seniors’ Health through Policy and Community Level Interventions, and will specifically focus on completing three projects: Improving rural seniors’ mobility and social interaction through intervention research; Supporting healthy aging through walkable built environment; Addressing rural seniors’ access to information; These research projects collectively address the diversity of supports needed for seniors in rural and northern communities and aim to identify, develop and assess effectiveness of interventions to support healthy aging in place. The research will take place in several rural Saskatchewan communities and will involve collaboration with community partners and policy makers. The understanding gained through this research will enhance the healthy aging experience of seniors in rural and northern communities in the province.

History of health timeline now on our site

The Saskatchewan Population Health Evaluation and Research Unit (SPHERU) is unveiling an innovative new tool for studying the history of health in Saskatchewan. The Historical Health Timeline is an interactive, online resource that offers a historical range of events occurring between 1905 and 1985 that have affected the health of Saskatchewan residents. Some of the benchmarks include Saskatchewan’s becoming the first province to offer free tuberculosis vaccine, the opening of the first hospital designed to treat the mentally ill, a public works project during the Depression to deepen Wascana Lake, the introduction of the provincial sales tax, the enfranchisement of First Nations, to name only a few. Spearheading the political side of the timeline, Tom McIntosh, SPHERU Associate Director, says, “Our hope is that other scholars will see an opportunity to add to the content by including their work on the timeline and that, ultimately, it becomes a ‘living’ teaching and research resource for people in the province.” "This interactive timeline will offer the user a glimpse into Saskatchewan's rich and important history of health and health care, through text, photographs, and links to external documents,” adds Paul Hackett. “As we go forward we intend to build upon the present foundation, so that the timeline can become a gateway to understanding the past as well as how we got to where we are.” The creation of the timeline was a collaboration among several SPHERU members including McIntosh, Hackett, James Daschuk, Gloria DeSantis and Tara Todd. “The timeline is practical to use and serves as an engaging and exciting method of transferring knowledge and research to others,” says Todd, who was instrumental in developing the timeline. “The easily scrollable events provide a rich history of formal legislation, technological interventions, medical breakthroughs, widespread epidemics, changing health care practices and policies, and a general overview of how social determinants have historically played a role in affecting health status in Saskatchewan.” SPHERU launched a prototype of the site in the fall. The timeline is now on the SPHERU website at www.spheru.ca. It can be found under Publications/History of Health Inequities. The timeline project was developed as part of a larger project looking at the history of health in the province, led by Dr. Bonnie Jeffery (U of R) and Dr. Nazeem Muhajarine (U of S), with funding from the Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation.

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)