New Canada Research Chairs to improve child health, promote adaptation to climate change

    The Government of Canada recently awarded two Canada Research Chairs to School of Public Health faculty members.

    By Donna Richardson and Nisa Drozdowski on June 17, 2019

     

    The Government of Canada recently awarded two Canada Research Chairs valued at $500,000 each over five years to School of Public Health faculty members. Roman Pabayo and Sherilee Harper are among 13 University of Alberta researchers to receive the award.

    Alleviating childhood inequalities to improve health

    In what ways do social determinants, such as income inequality, affect the health of Canadian children and youth? In light of those factors, what opportunities to improve their health lie within their schools or neighbourhoods?

    Roman PabayoThese questions drive the research of Roman Pabayo, Canada Research Chair in Social and Health Inequities Throughout the Lifespan.

    Pabayo’s research includes three separate studies. First, he is looking at how the social setting in schools affects the health of youth—something few studies have done. Next, Pabayo is exploring the link between a pregnant mother’s exposure to social factors with early childhood health. Lastly, he is considering the specific mechanisms by which social inequities are affecting kids’ health.

    Since children spend much of their time at school, the school setting is an ideal place to influence their health. Pabayo’s evidence will be used to design school health intervention programs to be trialed in a “living laboratory” through an established network of schools in Alberta.

    Pabayo’s research will improve childhood inequalities and health in Alberta and Canada by providing policy and decision makers with information to develop and implement effective interventions for lifelong good health.

    Adaptation strategies to protect health in Inuit communities

    Malnutrition, food insecurity, mental health, and water- and food-borne diseases are just some of the health effects seen among Canada’s Inuit living in the Arctic region. The major culprit is climate change.

    Sherilee HarperSherilee Harper, Canada Research Chair in Climate Change and Health, is working with Inuit communities on strategies that will promote adaptation to climate change and reduce their exposure to related health risks.

    Harper takes a “bottom-up” community-based approach in the research. She is working in partnership with Inuit communities to answer two questions: 1) what climate, environment, social and health metrics matter to Inuit; and 2) how does climate change impact Inuit health currently and in the future? For example, Harper has worked with Inuit in Nunatsiavut to co-create and pilot an app called eNuk. Inuit community members can use the app to monitor and respond to climate and health conditions.

    Climate change is a significant public health concern for Inuit living in the Arctic region. Dramatic changes are affecting the ability of Inuit to travel on the land and access to nutritious and affordable food. These climate changes are also affecting their physical and mental health.

    Working together with decision makers and scientists, Harper’s research develops and uses strategies to adapt to climate changes, thereby protecting and promoting their health.

    Research to address critical issues

    Shanthi Johnson, dean of the School of Public Health, says that Pabayo’s and Harper’s research are indicative of the relevant and timely work done by faculty researchers to tackle real-world public health challenges. “Our scholars address critically important and urgent public health issues,” she said. While Dr. Pabayo and Dr. Harper will each work with different populations, they will each address the serious issue of inequity and its impact on the health of people.

    “We are delighted to have recruited such promising scholars to our School,” added Johnson. “They are assets to our strong School.”

    The Canada Research Chairs Program is part of a national strategy to make Canada one of the world's top countries in research and development. It invests approximately $265 million per year to attract and retain a diverse cadre of world-class researchers, to reinforce academic research and training excellence in Canadian postsecondary institutions.