Research Thematic Areas

Centre for Healthy Communities Focal Areas - Illustration of many different people in urban and rural settings

The Centre for Healthy Communities has identified five core research thematic areas to help guide our work: healthy environments, health equity, healthy municipalities and workplaces, healthy school communities, and supporting healthy Indigenous communities.  The uniqueness of the Centre is how we integrate ideas and research across the thematic areas in a systems approach to our work.

Healthy Environments

Research Thematic Area Lead: Simon Otto, PhD, DVM

Harnessing the connections between humans, animals, and their environment (a One Health approach) to optimize community and planetary health, sustainability, and wellbeing.

One Health acknowledges the interconnections between human, animal, and environmental health, and calls for sectors to work together to develop comprehensive solutions to pressing public health concerns. Healthy communities ultimately derive from a balance between the health of these interconnections.

The goal of the Healthy Environments Thematic Area is to harness the One Health connections between humans, animals, and their environments to enhance community health, sustainability, and wellbeing.  

Through the Centre for Healthy Communities we are working to achieve this goal by:

  • building One Health connections between human, animal, and environmental sectors and stakeholders to create healthy and sustainable communities; and,  
  • utilizing the One Health connections of communities to create healthy people, animals, and environments.

Dr. Simon Otto is also the Lead Investigator of the Human - Environment - Animal Transdisciplinary Antimicrobial Resistance Research Group (HEAT-AMR). For more information on his work related to healthy environments visit the HEAT-AMR Research Group


Health Equity

Research Thematic Area Lead: Roman Pabayo, PhD

Achieving social and health equity through research, initiatives, and development of resources that transcend the CHC research thematic areas. 

The social determinants of health are the economic and social conditions that influence individual and group differences in health status. Social determinants are health promoting factors found in one's living and working conditions. Social inequities are the distributions of social determinants that are often shaped by unjust public policies that reflect prevailing ideologies of the area. These social inequities may lead to health inequities, which are preventable. Therefore, social and health inequities are preventable by implementing policies, programs, and initiatives that decrease disparities.  

Supporting healthy municipalities involves decreasing social inequities.

Through the Centre for Healthy Communities we would like to achieve this goal by:

  • working with communities and sociodemographic groups within Canada that disproportionately experience adverse health outcomes and to identify social policies that affect their health;
  • identifying policies and programs that have affected social inequities within urban, suburban, and rural environments;
  • evaluating policies and programs at municipal, provincial, and national levels that affect social inequities; and 
  • working alongside community and sociodemographic groups, to advocate for improving the social equality of communities. 

Dr. Roman Pabayo is also the Lead Investigator of the Epidemiological Methods for Equity Research to Generate Evidence (EMERGE) Research Lab. For more information on his work related to healthy equity visit the EMERGE Research Lab

Health Equity Resource: Are you interested in health equity and its relationship with population health?  Find out more through this inventory of health equity datasets and the accompanying infographic prepared by the Health Equity Thematic area team. 


Healthy Municipalities and Workplaces

Research Thematic Area Lead: Candace Nykiforuk, PhD, CE

Fostering healthy and sustainable municipalities and workplaces by supporting systems-wide change, enhancing built and social environments, and informing governance and policies to improve wellbeing and equity. 

Health and wellbeing starts outside the health sector and is shaped by our our communities and workplaces. People’s health and wellbeing are closely tied to where they live, play and work. This means that people alongside their community’s or workplace’s – and are shaped by the combined influence of their built and natural environments, social issues, policies, and the broader economy are all important factors to consider when thinking about health and wellbeing. While each is a critical factor alone, taken together, the interplay of these elements (or system) create the conditions for health. Yet, communities and workplaces  are facing unprecedented, complex challenges that require creative, systems-oriented solutions that target these different elements. One size does not fit all: we must understand what works for whom, and under what conditions. 

Fostering wellbeing through healthy municipalities and workplaces involves understanding - and sometimes reimagining - addressing the links between policies and planning, the nature of community and work environments. This means acting on links between policies and planning, equity, inclusion and access, social innovation, and both physical and mental health. The goal of this thematic area is to collaborate with multi-sectoral partners from the wide range of sectors that impact health and wellbeing to improve health and wellbeing by supporting systems-wide change, evidence-informed supporting integrated decision making, and planning for sustainable, resilient communities and workplaces.

Through the Centre for Healthy Communities we work to achieve this goal by:

  • investigating the various factors that foster well-being across diverse communities and workplaces;
  • collaborating across sectors to bring a range of knowledge, perspectives, and information into our activities and research initiatives;
  • positively impacting practice and policy by identifying more effective opportunities to cultivate thriving and resilient communities and workplaces;
  • building evidence-based cases for designing and developing population-level strategies to foster a systems response that promotes wellbeing and addresses the root causes of ill health in communities and workplaces; and
  • critically analyzing practice-based information, policy options, and academic evidence and making the findings more widely available to decision makers and stakeholders.

Dr. Candace Nykiforuk is also the Lead Investigator of the Policy, Location and Access in Community Environments (PLACE) Research Lab.  For more information on her work related to healthy municipalities and workplaces visit the PLACE Research Lab. 


Healthy School Communities

Research Thematic Area Lead: Kate Storey, PhD, RD

Building, supporting, and sustaining healthy school communities by advancing the evidence base, promoting systems change, and informing policy and practice through knowledge mobilization. 

Schools are powerful settings to build healthy communities, reaching nearly all children during critical developmental years. Schools are central hubs and link directly to home and community; and can model wellness-promoting environments for all.

Supporting healthy school communities entails enhancing the implementation and success of taking a comprehensive school health (CSH) approach. Wellness is a precondition for learning, and CSH has proven effective in improving health behaviours while also improving educational outcomes. CSH is an internationally recognized framework that incorporates individual, interpersonal, community and organizational factors to address school health holistically.

Supporting school communities to build on their strengths and identify areas for future growth can bolster CSH success. This creates a culture of wellness for the whole school community – students, teachers and staff, families and community members.  

Through the Centre for Healthy Communities we aim to achieve this goal by:

  • working directly with school communities and their allies to identify school health priorities, strengths and barriers to taking a CSH approach;
  • strengthening collaboration among stakeholders working to advance healthy school communities across Canada;
  • advancing the evidence base through school-based intervention research and program evaluation; and
  • using evidence to inform both policy and practice to enhance CSH action and build healthier communities.

Dr. Kate Storey is also the Lead Investigator of the Settings-based Intervention Research through Changes in Lifestyles & Environments (SIRCLE) Research Lab. For more information on her work related to healthy school communities visit the SIRCLE Research Lab.


Supporting Healthy Indigenous Communities

Research Thematic Area Lead: Stephanie Montesanti, PhD

Working with Indigenous Elders, Knowledge Keepers, community partners and researchers to promote research focused on the strength, resilience, and deep knowledge and commitments that communities hold to optimize health and wellbeing and create new opportunities for the next generations. 

Within Indigenous communities, families are the heart and they are the cornerstone through which infants, children and youth develop, learn, grow, and flourish.  This serves as the basis for peoples’ well-being across the lifespan. We have also learned during engagement sessions with our School of Public Health Elders and Knowledge Holders that living a respectful life, renewing Indigenous knowledge, protecting and revitalizing Indigenous languages, and nurturing healthy supportive environments helps to strengthen Indigenous health and well-being.  

The listening and engagement through the broader School of Public Health Indigenous Reconciliation Strategy has led to the prioritizing of Supporting Healthy Indigenous Communities as a core thematic area within the Centre for Healthy Communities.  We recognize we have much to learn. The intent of this thematic area is to bring together partners from across research disciplines and Indigenous communities with the overall goal of supporting community-led and community-specific solutions that promote the best possible healthy life for Indigenous families, children, and communities.    

Through the Centre for Healthy Communities we would like to achieve this goal by:

  • working with our Elders, Knowledge Holders, and partners to identify health priorities and potential solutions that are important for urban, northern, and rural/remote Indigenous peoples;
  • cultivating relationships that foster collaborative research and knowledge generation in support of the aspirations of Indigenous peoples and communities;
  • engaging in respectful discussions on building trust to support the development of networks, partnerships, and allyship;
  • respecting Indigenous values and principles; and
  • incorporating Indigenous worldview and knowledge in health and wellness approaches for Indigenous children, youth, and communities.

Dr. Stephanie Montesanti is also the Lead Investigator of the Collaborative Applied Research for Equity in Health Policy and Systems (CARE) Research Lab. For more information on her work related to supporting healthy Indigenous communities visit the CARE Research Lab.