Investing in Science-Based Solutions to Improve Health and Well-Being in Urban Areas

Jul 5, 2021

vegetables for sale at a marketPHOTO BY JULIAN HANSLMAIER ON UNSPLASH Over 80 per cent of Canadians live in cities. We know that our health depends on environmental factors such as air quality, active and public transportation options, and the availability of healthy food, green space, adequate housing, and social services. However, there are still gaps in our knowledge about which solutions work best, for whom and why. By studying these solutions and implementing them in real-world conditions, we can build our understanding of how to improve population health, well-being, and health equity.

To help bridge these gaps, today, the Honourable Patty Hajdu, Minister of Health, and the Honourable François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, announced an investment of $4.95 million over six years in a new research training platform. This platform will guide the development of a new generation of health, social sciences and humanities, engineering and natural sciences researchers, to find ways to make Canadian cities healthier, more livable, and more resilient.

Professors Mary L’Abbe and Dan Sellen of the Department of Nutritional Sciences are co-investigators on the project. Both are also researchers with the Joannah and Brian Lawson Centre for Child Nutrition.

“We know that access to healthy food and a balanced diet is essential for good physical and mental health,” says Hajdu.

“The research supported through this funding will help city planners find the right tools and implement the best policies to give people living in urban areas reliable and secure access to food that is healthy and affordable, improving health outcomes in Canada and around the globe.”

The Implementing Smart Cities Interventions to Build Healthy Cities (SMART) Training Platform is led by Professor David Ma at the University of Guelph, Professor Laurette Dubé at McGill University, and Professor Miyoung Suh at the University of Manitoba. These researchers and their team of collaborators will develop a curriculum to equip trainees at 10 institutions across the country with the knowledge and skills to tackle many of the challenges faced in urban environments. The trainees will engage in implementation science; that is, examining whether a particular practice works by testing it in the real world and understanding how to adapt it so that it works best in different regions, under different conditions, and with different populations.

“We are incredibly excited about the opportunity to train the next generation of leaders in implementation science at the same time as we support major investments moving knowledge into action. Funding from the Healthy Cities Research Initiative will enable our network to develop a unique training program with a thematic focus on the central place of food in healthy cities, the use of ‘big data’ to create smart solutions for urban environments, and bringing together the best knowledge, practices and tools from different fields of study to find solutions to complex problems,” says Ma.

The SMART Training Platform builds on three Smart Cities proposals from the cities of Guelph, Montreal and the Opaskwayak Cree Nation located in the town of The Pas, Manitoba. It will play a vital role in bringing together various components of CIHR’s Healthy Cities Research Initiative (HCRI) and building a community of practice around implementing, developing and evaluating urban solutions that achieve positive health and wellbeing outcomes in ways that are impactful, sustainable, and equitable.

The participating research institutions also include University of Waterloo, Laval University, University of Montreal, University of Ottawa, Dawson College and University of Sherbrooke.

Three federal granting agencies – the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) – are each contributing one-third of the funding for the Platform.