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

Banning unhealthy food advertising to kids

SPHERU’s Dr. Rachel Engler-Stringer joined the Heart and Stroke Foundation last week in talking about how the food and beverage industry are marketing unhealthy options to children in Canada. On Feb. 1, the Heart and Stroke Foundation released their annual report entitled, “The kids are not alright. How the food and beverage industry is marketing our children and youth to death.” Dr. Engler-Stringer and Fleur Macqueen Smith, director of government relations and health promotion of the Saskatchewan Heart and Stroke Foundation, appeared on Global News Regina and Global News Saskatoon to explain the effects food and beverage advertising have on children and their families. During her appearance on the Global Regina News Morning Show, Dr. Engler-Stringer explained that since 1979, obesity rates in children have tripled in Canada. “What the Heart and Stroke Foundation is calling for, and I agree with, is a ban on advertising of food and beverages to children under the age of 16,” Dr. Engler-Stringer said.   According to the report, research shows that 90 per cent of all food and beverage advertising to children is promoting unhealthy food, high in salt, sugar and fat. The Heart and Stroke Foundation also commissioned a poll to determine how Canadians felt about advertising to children. Many parents felt as though the odds were stacked against them when it came to advertising, Dr. Engler-Stringer said. A prime example of limiting food advertising to children is what’s currently happening in Quebec. In 1980, Quebec implemented a complete ban on advertising to children under the age of 13. As a result, Quebec children, particularly francophone children, have lower rates of fast food consumption as well as one of the lowest obesity rates in Canada. For more information, check out Dr. Engler-Stringer and Fleur Macqueen Smith’s interviews on Global News Morning Regina, Global News Morning Saskatoon and Global Saskatoon Evening News.

SPHERU and a "Healthy Start"

Recently, SPHERU was approached to collaborate with the Healthy Start/Départ Santé team as they move into the next phase of their early childhood initiative. Healthy Start/Départ Santé is a bilingual initiative intended to encourage healthy eating and physical activity for children aged three to five. The initiative originated from a partnership of individuals and organizations that wanted to include an early years component to the Saskatoon Health Region’s in-motion program. The initiative is being implemented throughout Saskatchewan and New Brunswick and is funded in part by the Saskatchewan Community Initiatives Fund and through the Public Health Agency of Canada’s Innovation Strategy “Achieving Healthier Weights in Canadian Communities” .  On Jan. 18, co-ordinators, community partners and policy makers gathered at the Healthy Start/Départ Santé Symposium in Saskatoon to share and reveal how healthy eating and physical activity have an immediate and long term impact on children into adulthood.   SPHERU director Dr. Nazeem Muhajarine was invited to deliver closing remarks at the Symposium, emphasizing on the next objectives of the initiative. “It comes down to sustainability,” Muhajarine said. “We have to be able to sustain this. And please advocate for this, please stay engaged, please innovate and please practice what you know to be right and true.” HSDS Phase 2 (2013-2017) implemented the initiative in more than 300 child care centres throughout Saskatchewan and New Brunswick. As the initiative moves into Phase 3, HSDS plans to utilize SPHERU’s assistance to look at the results of the previous phase. Together, SPHERU and the HSDS team will be exploring the assessment of the HSDS knowledge, development and exchange (KDE) and partnership engagement work that occurred during the past four years. SPHERU will also be looking at the results of implementing and evaluating the initiative in supporting further dissemination. SPHERU’s Dr. Gabriela Novotna and Dr. Muhajarine will be working with the HSDS team during this collaboration. SPHERU faculty, including Dr. Rachel Engler-Stringer had previously contributed to the nutrition assessment of Phase 2 of the HSDS initiative.  Healthy Start is led by the Réseau Santé en français de la Saskatchewan; and partnered with the University of Saskatchewan including the Department of Community Health and Epidemiology, College of Medicine; College of Kinesiology; College of Pharmacy & Nutrition. Other Healthy Start partners include the Centre de formation médicale du N-B, (Université de Sherbrooke et de Moncton, New Brunswick); Saskatchewan Early Childhood Association (SECA); the Saskatchewan Prevention Institute;  Active Kids/Jeunes actifs, New Brunswick; Association des parents fransaskois (APF); ECE Colleges in Saskatchewan and New Brunswick; and the Ministries of Education and Health in Saskatchewan and New Brunswick.   

Collaborating on realist synthesis project

A SPHERU faculty member has collaborated with colleagues across the country to win a competition for a $70,000 grant. Dr. Nazeem Muhajarine, along with colleagues in Quebec, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland learned in mid-December they had won the competition for the operation grant: Pan-Canadian SPOR (Strategy for Patient-Oriented Research) Network in Primary & Integrated Health Care Innovations -- Knowledge Synthesis. A committee reviewed the following project the group submitted, “Case management in primary care to improve outcomes among frequent users of health care services with chronic conditions: a realist synthesis of what works for whom and in what circumstances.” The group proposed to review cases of people with chronic illnesses who frequently access health care services. The project team includes patients, decision and policy makers, as well as practitioners. 

Symposium on effects of healthy habits

Healthy Start/Départ Santé is a bilingual initiative promoting healthy eating and physical activity in early learning and childcare in Saskatchewan.   On Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017 the Healthy Start/Départ Santé program is hosting a symposium to showcase the results of a comprehensive evaluation study conducted by SPHERU in collaboration with the Université de Sherbrooke. The symposium will also discuss how an intervention like Healthy Start has an effect on the health and well-being of young children and their caregivers.  Everyone is welcome to join the Healthy Start/Départ Santé Symposium in Hall A at the Prairieland Park Trade and Convention Centre on Jan. 18 from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.  This event is also an opportunity to share the Healthy Start/Départ Santé story, the milestones and lessons learned after four years of implementing the program in French and in English, in both Saskatchewan and New Brunswick.  Through a partnership of organisations led by the Réseau Santé en français de la Saskatchewan (RSFS - Saskatchewan Network for Health Services in French), with funding from the Public Health Agency of Canada, Healthy Start is an evidence-based approach that engages early years’ directors, educators, cooks and parents, providing resources, training and ongoing support.   Registration to attend in person ends Friday, January 13, 2017. Online participation (video conferencing) will be available the day of the event as well: http://healthystartkids.ca/healthy-start-symposium/?#

SPHERU post-doc receives SHRF grant

Post-doctoral research fellow Dr. Serene Kerpan has been awarded a $100,000 grant from the Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation to investigate the effect of physical activity on mental health in Indigenous youth in the province. Acting as supervisors, SPHERU’s Dr. Sylvia Abonyi and Dr. Sarah Oosman will be working with Kerpan as she examines the association between a physical activity intervention and mental health for Indigenous elementary school youth in Whitecap Dakota First Nation. Saskatchewan Indigenous youth are the fastest growing demographic in the province, however they also are disproportionately affected by mental health issues, including high rates of suicide. According to studies with non-Indigenous youth, physical activity significantly reduces depression, anxiety and other mental health issues. By promoting cultural and traditional activities, such as hunting, fishing, hiking and dancing, these physical activities and an Indigenous worldview will be brought together to enhance mental health in Indigenous youth. Kerpan plans to collaborate with community members, including youth, parents, leaders and Elders to design, implement and evaluate the intervention. If the intervention is successful, scalability and adaptive approaches will be investigated to determine if this evidence-based strategy can be used to enhance the mental health of youth in other Indigenous communities. For more information on the 2016-17 Research Fellowship: http://shrf.ca/Health-Research/Recipient-Details?recipID=3849

“Clearing the Plains” influences worldwide

SPHERU’s Dr. Jim Daschuk, and his best-selling academic book “Clearing the Plains,” have been gaining attention across Canada and worldwide. University of Regina Press director Bruce Walsh appeared on the CBC Saskatchewan Morning Show on Nov. 29 to discuss how influential the book has become, including being listed by the Literary Review of Canada as one of the 25 most influential Canadian books of the past 25 years. Daschuk’s book chronicles the history of disease, politics, starvation and the loss of Aboriginal life on the Prairies, as well as the role that the federal government, particularly under Prime Minister John A. Macdonald, played. While the history of the Prairies was known to historians, the broad story had yet to be told before the book was published, Walsh said. “We pretend that isn’t who we are as Canadians -- that we’re nice people, that nothing bad ever happened here,” he said. The radio segment starts off with a few brief comments from Michael Langan, an entrepreneur, who founded Colonialism Skateboards based on Daschuk’s research. “I like to call it my bible just because there’s so much information and history in this book and it inspired me to share some for that information in the book with other people,” Langan said. During the nearly 10-minute segment, Walsh noted that “Clearing the Plains” had been mentioned in a New York Times op-ed by Stephen Marche, which comments on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s relationship with Indigenous people and the environment. Daschuk’s book has also gone on to win a number of other awards including the Governor General’s History Award, the Sir John A. Macdonald Prize as well as six Saskatchewan Book Awards. For the full radio piece, visit CBC Saskatchewan’s website. 

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)