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.
Whats Happening at SPHERU
While half a country away, Dr. Daniel Fuller is SPHERU’s first out of province researcher.
Recently, Fuller relocated to Memorial University start a new position as a Canada Research Chair in Population Physical Activity in St. John’s, Newfoundland. However, his work within both the research unit and the province will continue through ongoing collaborative research with SPHERU colleagues.
As a teen, Fuller spent plenty of time riding a bicycle through Saskatoon’s inner city neighbourhoods to go kayaking on the South Saskatchewan River. During this time, he began thinking about how urban environments can promote or limit physical activity.
One of Fuller’s first priorities as a research chair will be to develop a database of urban environment measures for Canada. Access to fast food restaurants and walkability within a city are both examples of urban environmental measures.
“Currently, we do not have this type of database for research in Canada, which limits our ability to conduct large national studies,” Fuller said.
Once he’s compiled the data, he plans to integrate it with the provincial and national health administrative data at the Newfoundland and Labrador Centre for Health Information and the Statistics Canada Research Data Centre.
“I’ve done a lot of work with urban environment and health administrative data but it’s an exciting challenge to start a large data linkage project that can contribute to my own research and research capacity in Canada,” Fuller said.
While in Saskatchewan, in recent years Fuller has collaborated with researchers with the Department of Community Health and Epidemiology and SPHERU on several studies including studies on neighbourhood built environment, seasonality and physical activity in children, and impact of poverty and other social determinants on health outcomes of Saskatchewan population.
Fuller contributes chapter to health intervention book
In the midst of preparing for his new position, Fuller also contributed a chapter to the book “Population Health Intervention Research: Geographical perspectives.”
The goal of the book is to encourage the scientific community to be innovative with their way of thinking about population health issues.
Fuller joined co-author Erin Hobin at Public Health Ontario to write guidelines to help researchers plan and conduct natural experiment studies.
“We wanted to write something similar for natural experiments because nothing exists in that area,” Fuller said. “We also include examples from our own work to make the link between the concepts we propose and our experience doing this type of research.”
Hobin has conducted research studying healthy nutrition labelling on food, while Fuller has studied public bicycle share programs in North America.
In a recently published article in the International Journal of Circumpolar Health, findings from a study conducted by SPHERU researchers Paul Hackett and Sylvia Abonyi, and fellow University of Saskatchewan researcher Roland Dyck reveal that Indigenous children were healthy prior to entering residential schools.
Researchers analyzed microfilm records of more than 1,700 children entering the schools between 1919 and the 1950s. The findings indicate that 80 per cent of the children were at a healthy weight, suggesting that many of the health problems that disproportionately affect Indigenous people today can be linked back to the residential school experience.
In an editorial released alongside the article researchers reflect on the challenges of ethically carrying out archival research using public records where issues of consent and confidentiality are present. In the paper, researchers outline the strategies they took in an effort to mitigate these issues, including broad consultation with Indigenous partners, colleagues and organizations as the work unfolded. "Overwhelmingly, our Indigenous colleagues affirm that the data from the health examinations tells an important part of the residential school story and that they should be used for this type of scholarly research, despite the circumstances under which they were collected."
The study has generated national, and international, interest with articles and interviews appearing in a number of media outlets, several of which are provided below.
Full Article: Anthropometric indices of First Nations children and youth on first entry to Manitoba/Saskatchewan residential schools—1919 to 1953
Editorial: Reflections on ethical challenges encountered in Indigenous health research using archival records
Contributions by SPHERU food environment researchers have been included in a in a new series of papers entitled Retail Food Environments in Canada: Maximizing the Impact of Research, Policy and Practice, recently released in a supplement of the Canadian Journal of Public Health.
The supplement, co-coordinated by Rachel Engler-Stringer, provides an overview of unhealthy food landscapes across Canada, and includes a commentary on the state of food environments research in Canada Retail food environments research: Promising future with more work to be done. Co-authored by SPHERU's Daniel Fuller, Engler-Stringer and Nazeem Muhajarine, the commentary outlines key challenges in the field of food environments research.
In addition to research on food deserts, or neighbourhoods where access to healthy food retailers is lacking, SPHERU researchers Engler-Stringer and Muhajarine have also looked at the impact of food swamps, neighbourhoods where fast-food outlets and convenience stores are clustered, and the concept of food mirages, where healthy food is available but not affordable.
The research highlighted in the journal has generated interest within Canada and beyond, and has been featured in a number of stories in media outlets including CBC, Global, and Newswise.
SPHERU was well represented at the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR) Sparking Solutions conference in Ottawa in April, with two posters and a podium presentation. The purpose of the summit was to facilitate a solutions-oriented dialogue that responded to one or more of six key questions, aimed at 'sparking solutions' for population health.
A group poster entitled "Engaged Research as a Catalyst for Population Health Change: SPHERU's transformative work in Saskatchewan 1999-2015" was presented by Tom McIntosh. It highlighted the population health intervention model developed by SPHERU, providing examples from individual projects to answer questions of scalability, context, history and solutions outside the health sector.
Dr. Nazeem Muhajarine also presented "If obesity is a post-modern scourge, don't we need to move beyond outdated solutions? along with a poster entltled "Changing inner-city food environments: From food desert/swamp to Good Food Junction Co-operative and beyond'
In a recent study funded by the Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation (SHRF), University of Saskatchewan researchers with the Dept. of Community Health and Epidemiology and SPHERU examined the impact of poverty and other social determinants of health on addressing health inequities within the province of Saskatchewan.
Findings from the study, released in the report 'Changes in Social Inequalities in Health Over Time in Saskatchewan' suggest that poverty continues to negatively impact the health of the poorest among us. In an interview with the Saskatoon Star Phoenix lead author Dr. Cory Neudorf explained that in times of economic boom the effect can be amplified as housing and other costs rise.
An article highlighting SPHERU’s work has been published in Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation’s (SHRF) Research for health magazine (Issue 3, December 2015).
The article focuses on the unit’s 15 year history of research and its connections – across research disciplines, with communities and policy makers, and to broad audiences through its knowledge translation strategies. By exploring how these multiple connections work together to produce new policy and program relevant knowledge for addressing health inequities among populations, the purpose and strength of the unit is revealed.
The full article is available at www.shrf.ca/publications.