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

Hunger a common residential school experienc…

When survivors shared their residential school experiences with Dr. Ian Mosby, a common thread emerged – hunger. On Feb. 26 and Feb. 27, Dr. Mosby will be speaking Saskatoon as part of the Conversations for Health Equity series. The talks, entitled “We Were Always Hungry,” focuses on how residential school diets shaped current patterns of diabetes among Indigenous peoples in Canada. As a historian, Dr. Mosby’s area of research largely focuses on food and nutrition in Canada. Through his research, he uncovered nutrition experiments that were conducted on nearly 1000 children in six residential schools across the country as well as in a number of Cree First Nations in northern Manitoba. Dr. Mosby listened and met with residential school survivors to look at the impact of food and nutrition policy on Indigenous people in Canada.  “Many survivors asked me: what were the long term impacts of the hunger and malnutrition I experienced in residential schools? If felt that it was the least I could do to try to find some answers,” Mosby said. In collaboration with colleague Tracy Galloway, who is currently an assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Toronto, they discovered a preliminary answer to those questions. In residential schools, relationships between food and cultural traditions were destroyed; food was used as a reward and as a punishment; and, more importantly, hunger and malnutrition were widespread. The health impacts of these experiences were profound -- resulting in high rates of Type 2 Diabetes, obesity, and heart disease in former students who experienced hunger and malnutrition as children at residential school. While there is a great deal of medical literature on Type II Diabetes in Indigenous people, Mosby found that, in the available literature, there’s little discussion residential schools or colonialism as a contributing factor to these health issues.   During his talk at the University of Saskatchewan on Feb. 27, Mosby plans to explore more technical aspects of the studies on nutrition experiments for health students and professionals in attendance. Health care providers – including nurses, dietitians – must take into account if patients did experience hunger in childhood, and consider those factors in assessing a patient’s health. Many survivors are blamed for those conditions, Mosby said. A person’s health can sometimes be viewed as a ‘personal flaw.’ “In fact, many of these conditions – you can link them back to childhood traumas. There needs to be less shame and more understanding of systemic causes of illnesses like Type II Diabetes,” Mosby said.   The first “We Were Always Hungry” talk will take place at Station 20 West on Monday, February 26 at 7 p.m. The second session will take place at the Gordon Oakes Red Bear Student Centre at the University of Saskatchewan on Tuesday, February 27 at 12:30 p.m. Both talks are free to the public.

More to Saskatchewan's healthcare history

The University of Regina’s Communications and Marketing team has released a feature story on SPHERU researchers and one of their passion projects – the History of Health in Saskatchewan Timeline. The story, “Saskatchewan’s Healthcare history – Medicare, race-based access, and more,” looks at how SPHERU researchers Dr. Tom McIntosh, Dr. Jim Daschuk, Dr. Paul Hackett, along with Dr. Twyla Salm (Associate Dean of Research and Graduate Programs in Education, U of R), plan to use the timeline. The historical timeline is a compilation of data on health outcomes for different populations in the province, combined with key political, economic and social events. SPHERU aims to continue to build the timeline to be a resource and tool for teachers, researchers, and interested residents to explore the uneven distribution of health across Saskatchewan. Co-director Tom McIntosh explained that the timeline has started to tell the story of how the “history of race determined, and still determines, access to care.”   “One person sent us newspaper clippings about how her father had played an important role in changing rules around access to hospitals in major cities for First Nations peoples and instead being sent only to the so-called ‘Indian Hospitals,’” McIntosh said.   For more on the feature story, Saskatchewan’s Healthcare history – Medicare, race-based access, and more Visit the History of Health in Saskatchewan Timeline More coverage on the historical timeline: CBC Saskatchewan

Muhajarine selected as health journal editor

SPHERU director Dr. Nazeem Muhajarine has been selected to act as a senior editor of the Canadian Jounal of Public Health.  Starting this month, Dr. Muhajarine will review and participate in shaping the content and future for the Canadian Journal of Public Health (CJPH). Some of his responsibilities will include reviewing submitted articles to the journal upon request of the Editor-in-Chief. He will participate in annual and quarterly meetings of the CJPH editorial board.  Dr. Muhajarine has also been ivited to contribute scholarly work to the journal during his four-year term as senior editor.  In accepting this position, Dr Muhajarine said, “CJPH is the flagship public health journal in Canada and has long-served the public health community. I thank Louise Potvin [the editor-in-chief] and the editorial board for inviting me to serve. I am looking forward to joining the board, and adding my voice at a time when the journal is elevating its profile not only in Canada but worldwide.”

Student food insecurity study published

Rising tuition rates and post-secondary costs are creating food insecurity for nearly 40 per cent of university students who responded to a recent survey at the University of Saskatchewan.   A newly published study in the Journal of Hunger and Environmental Nutrition surveyed a random sample of 4,500 students from the University of Saskatchewan. About 30 percent of students (1,359) responded to survey questions. About 40 per cent of students reported some degree of food insecurity, from marginal (11 per cent), to moderate (21 per cent), to severe (7.5 per cent). Students reporting experiencing food insecurity included: 58 per cent of international students 53 per cent of students who are parents 55 per cent of students who rely on government student loans (as primary income) 64 per cent of Indigenous students International students are twice as likely to experience food insecurity when compared to non-international students. Students who are parents are also 1.73 times more likely to be food insecure than students who are not parents. The study, “Student Food Insecurity: Examining Barriers to Higher Education at the University of Saskatchewan,” was conducted by Caitlin Olauson (Community Health and Epidemiology Master’s program graduate), Dr. Rachel Engler-Stringer (SPHERU researcher)­, along with Dr. Hassan Vatanparast (Nutrition and School of Public Health) and Rita Hanoski (Student Health Services, University of Saskatchewan). “A food drive isn’t the solution to help end food insecurity for students pursuing post-secondary education,” Engler-Stringer said. “We must take a look at the largest expenses for students, such as housing and tuition. It’s time for universities, and governments, to address issues that are causing food insecurity.”   Food insecurity is indicative of a larger problem students face – poverty, said Engler-Stringer. Students who experienced food insecurity said different aspects of their lives were affected, including their mental and physical health, academic standing, and social lives. About 30 per cent of food insecure students dropped a course within the last year. In order to cope students were working more, borrowing more money, and delaying or not buying textbooks. The random sample study was the first of its kind, and most rigorous to date in Canada on student food insecurity. The Saskatchewan Population Health and Evaluation Research Unit (SPHERU) is an interdisciplinary, bi-university unit at the University of Saskatchewan and the University of Regina. SPHERU conducts intervention research to address issues of health inequity among vulnerable populations. For the full study. Media coverage: College of Medicine - uSask, Eaglefeather News, MBC, CBC Saskatchewan, Saskatoon Star Phoenix, Regina Leader Post

A month in Mozambique

SPHERU’s co-director Nazeem Muhajarine returned home this week from a month-long trip to Mozambique as part of the project, “Engaging communities and health workers for sexual, reproductive, maternal and newborn health.” Along with Denise Kouri and Don Kossick, the trio travelled to Inhambane, Mozambique, where they joined a team of 12 project staff. During the first week, the trio attended a workshop by Women and Law in Southern Africa (WLSA). WLSA director Terzinha de Silva led the workshop, which was attended by key leaders of the provincial Department of Health (DPSI) directors of Health Training Centres in Inhumbane, as well as project staff. The workshop focused on gender rights and equality in Mozambique. The Program Steering Committee met on Oct. 17, to welcome representatives of Global Affairs Canada/the Canadian high Commission in Mozambique, and the Ministry of Health who were travelling from Maputo to Inhambane. The purpose of the gathering was to introduce visitors from Maputo to the project and its activities. A visit was arranged to a community health post, a district hospital, and to the Massinga Training Centre. A three-day workshop was held from October 25-27, to focus on women-centred community economic development. A guest facilitator flew in from Cape Town, South Africa. More than 40 attendees from 10 communities involved in the project, learned social determinants of health, and how to raise chickens in a small-scale community-based business. Dr. Muhajarine also conducted a consultation session with DPSI management. They discussed the use of maternal near-miss analysis in their work, which has a research component.   Dr. Muhajarine and Denise Kouri provided a summary of the activities in Mozambique upon their return at the end of October.  

Opioid crisis a health issue, not criminal

SPHERU’s Gabriela Novotna and Tom McIntosh recently wrote an opinion editorial of how opioids have escalated from a medical issue to a population health crisis. The piece goes on to describe how opioid overdoses began with over-prescription of painkillers like OxyContin, which then eventually lead to the illegal production and distribution of fentanyl. They explain how first responders are now better equipped to stop overdoses with naloxone, however the individual will most likely be “processed into the criminal justice system.” Novotna and McIntosh point out that the steps being taken now are fine as first steps, but long-term strategies must view addictions as a health issue, not a criminal issue.   “We recognize that this is calling for a major policy shift in how we discuss addiction. But as the fentanyl deaths continue to claim more and more lives, we cannot continue to pretend that we are on the path to solving this problem when every indicator says otherwise. The evidence is strong. It is our mindset that needs changing.” For more, read the op-ed as it first appeared in iPolitics, and later picked up by Evidence Network, the Winnipeg Free Press, Huffington Post Canada and HuffPo Quebec. 

Photo Credit(s):
Northern and Aboriginal Health (SPHERU staff), Rural Health (Carolyn Tran), Intervention Research (Hilary Gough), Healthy Children (Thilina Bandara), History of Health Inequities (Saskatchewan Archives Board)