New Applied Public Health Chair to study community environments

Candace Nykiforuk aims to create supportive environments and build healthy public policy.

Bicycle lanes on neighbourhood streets, non-smoking bylaws in local restaurants and protected urban green spaces all have something in common. They are examples of healthy public policies that can create supportive environments and affect the ability of residents to live a healthy lifestyle.

There is complex interplay between designing healthy public policies and creating supportive environments. The two are interdependent-policies shape environments and environments create conditions amenable to policy changes-yet there is still much to be learned.

It is this dynamic, and what is yet unknown about using these strategies to reduce the burden of chronic disease and improve the health of populations, that fascinates Candace Nykiforuk.

Nykiforuk, associate professor in the School of Public Health, was recently awarded a five-year Applied Public Health Chair by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) to further explore these strategies. This award aims, in part, to support high quality programs and to assist in effectively applying research to practice.

Nykiforuk's research program, known as Policy, Location, and Access in Community Environments (PLACE), aims to build a better understanding of the relationships between people, the places they live and the policies under which they operate. This, she says, is essential for effective health promotion and public health programs.

Nykiforuk's ongoing work includes an evaluation of community investment in recreation spaces, designed to promote access to facilities. Recently, she explored Love to Play, an innovative preschool program in Ardrossan County. Additionally, she will build on earlier research about walkability in Edmonton by examining walkability in rural communities in Alberta.

On the policy side, Nykiforuk will continue to examine, develop and share the Policy Readiness Tool, an instrument that assists policy practitioners in assessing whether their community is ready to tackle new policies to promote health.

Overall, her goal is to translate Alberta relevant research to other communities nationally and internationally.

Working with collaborators across sectors and disciplines is integral to Nykiforuk's research. Her approach-known as community-based participatory research-requires communities to first identify a need. Then, researchers and the community members collaborate to refine the research question.

"By working with communities in this way, we create knowledge partnerships," explains Nykiforuk. "Bringing communities in at the beginning and having them help identify and refine a research question creates a win-win situation. I can then ensure that the work I'm doing is relevant and meaningful to them, with the research being more impactful as well."

One of the cornerstones of the award is to educate and mentor the next generation of health researchers, a responsibility that Nykiforuk does not take lightly. The award allows her to support trainees in developing independent research, in addition to the contributions they make to ongoing projects in her program.

"This means that I am better able to recruit students whose research interests are aligned with my own," explains Nykiforuk. "It helps me to attract competitive and innovative students to the School of Public Health.

The work resulting from this award will allow Nykiforuk to develop tools, findings and knowledge for creating healthy, thriving communities in Alberta, nationally and internationally.

"I want to find ways to help communities flourish," says Nykiforuk.

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research-Institute of Population and Public Health in partnership with the Public Health Agency of Canada, the Centre de recherche en prévention de l'obésité, Fonds de la recherche en santé du Québec, the Quebec Ministry of Health and Social Services, and the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada are supporting the Applied Public Health Chairs.