The Honourable Leona Aglukkaq, Minister of Health, today announced three new research initiatives studying how the design of neighbourhoods impact obesity. The studies were funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada (HSFC). “The research announced today will lead us down a path to better health for Canadians by reducing obesity levels through improved community design, more active lifestyles, and increased access to healthy food choices,” said Minister Aglukkaq.
The three research teams will be funded through the Built Environment: Population Health Intervention Research Strategic Initiative for a total of $1.7 million over three years. The projects were approved through a competitive peer review process. This research will build on the 11 research projects funded by the built environment initiative in 2007, including another research study at the Atlantic Health Promotion Research Centre, the ENACT study (Environments, Nutrition and Activity). “How we plan, design, and build communities has a lasting influence on the activity levels and food choices of the people who live in them,” said Dr. Jean Rouleau, Scientific Director of the CIHR Institute of Circulatory and Respiratory Health. “Furthering our understanding of how neighbourhood layout and design influence health will inform polices and future urban planning to improve the health of Canadians.”
One of the three projects, called “TIME (Tools, Information, Motivation, Environment) for Health: A multi-level intervention to promote healthy eating in children and their families”, will be conducted in Halifax Regional Municipality. The project is led by ARCH director, Sara Kirk and Dr Daniel Rainham from the Environmental Science program at Dalhousie University, and will be conducted through the Atlantic Health Promotion Research Centre (AHPRC). This project arose from a finding in the ENACT study that families are often under time pressure around scheduled physical activity that they may not have the time to make healthy food choices at home. Yet, there are a number of settings where food availability is not consistent with current recommendations for healthy eating, including recreational facilities. While these facilities promote health in the form of physical activity, by contrast, the nutrition environment within them is often neglected in favour of energy dense fast and processed foods that are quick to prepare, cheap to provide and profitable. This study will design, implement and evaluate a multi-level intervention aimed at improving family nutrition habits and incorporating a change in the built environment to increase healthy food availability in recreational facilities. At the facility level, researchers will focus on evaluating the impact of existing work aimed at changing the food environment, such as increasing the availability of healthy food choices or encouraging families to purchase healthier food options. For the family-level intervention, parents of children aged five-12 years will be given a GPS-enabled smart phone that will provide information about availability of healthy food options and motivation such as personalized health messages, meal ideas and shopping hints and tips.