From the Directors…

Welcome to CANUE!

We are very excited to be launching CANUE and our website. It has been a productive few months since our funding support from the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR) started in June. We have an ambitious agenda for the rest of 2016 culminating in our first workshop in December when members and leadership will come together to exchange ideas and refine CANUE’s strategic plan.

Leading up to this point we have experienced a tremendous amount of excitement and willingness to work together throughout Canada, to join a team to break new ground in research and to have real and lasting impact. We are committed to building from this good will to realize as many of our collective ambitions for CANUE as possible while growing in membership and impact within Canada and internationally. We hope you’re on board for this ride and will spread the word to make sure CANUE is recognized and is responsive to the needs of as many stakeholders as possible.

CANUE truly represents an amazing opportunity to build a dynamic community in Canada that brings the best in urban environmental research and applications to the health research community, ultimately to support decision-making with public health in mind. We are hopeful that CANUE will enable and conduct highly relevant research on environmental factors, exposures or metrics and their links to health. Our goal is to empower our members, to foster collaboration, exchange and knowledge translation so that members and non-members alike clearly see our value-added and hence paddle hard to take CANUE to much success and well past our starting five-year time horizon.

Jeff Brook, PhD
Nominated PI and Scientific Director

Eleanor Setton, PhD
Managing Director

Meet CANUE members

Two CANUE members, Dr. Philip Awadalla and Dr. Padmaja Subbarao, are recent awardees of Programmatic Grants in Environments, Genes and Chronic Disease from the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR). These projects are exploiting linkages between environmental exposure data and these cohorts. Dr. Awadalla is one of the principal investigators of the Canadian Partnership for Tomorrow Project, Canada’s largest longitudinal population cohort with over 300,000 participants. Dr. Subbarao leads the Canadian Healthy Infant Longitudinal Development (CHILD) birth cohort.

Providing insight into the links between urban interactions and health

By linking air pollutant exposures and metrics of the urban environment that support physical activity (e.g., walkability) to individuals in several cohorts, we will be able to assess the effect of these two potentially counteracting environmental factors. This will mark the first time that we can answer questions such as: where and when in Canada does increased physical activity also increase air pollutant exposure? Does the former outweigh the latter in terms of public health? Are there urban areas in Canada where urban planners have successfully increased physical activity while air pollutant exposures have decreased or at least stayed the same? How can this be achieved more widely and what will the public health benefits be? These are the kinds of questions our stakeholders have identified as crucial to understanding the complex interplay of factors influencing health in the urban environment.

The potential of Google’s Earth Engine

The Google Earth Engine was introduced in 2010 to allow users to monitor and measure changes in the environment at a global scale.  This engine performs two key functions: 1) it curates and manages historical and ongoing satellite data; and 2) it offers an easy-to-use analytical platform that allows researchers to process data into useful metrics of environmental characteristics and monitor change over time. The Google Earth Engine has the potential to greatly improve our exposure estimates for cohorts where residential history is important (for example, the Canadian Longitudinal Study of Aging). It should also help us derive retrospective data for other CANUE metrics. For example, given that we have high resolution surfaces of noise and air pollution, as well as maps of local climate zones, it may be possible to develop algorithms that process the 30 metre images into land use classifications. Informed by current land use data, this processing would create model variables going back as far as 1984. Other Google Earth Engine data of interest include nighttime light levels at 1 km resolution, which is another exposure metric for urban form that is potentially important to health. We will fully investigate these opportunities and, as progress is made, share methods and products on the portal.

Data governance and management

CANUE members Dr. David Henry and Dr. Paul Demers will co-lead our Data Governance and Management Committee. They will develop a specific policy to address how we use, store and distribute exposure data provided by members or other data stewards. Dr. Henry is the former President and CEO of the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES), which holds and links administrative health data for Ontario. Dr. Demers, the Director of the Occupational Cancer Research Centre at Cancer Care Ontario, has participated in numerous pan-national and international collaborative studies. He will provides data management experience from the research perspective.

Advancing children’s healthy development

CANUE members Dr. Stephanie Atkinson and Dr. Meghan Azad are committed to advancing our understanding of the role of environment in developing healthy children. Their work explores the Developmental Origins of Health and Disease (DOHaD) hypothesis, which describes how maternal and environmental factors program fetal and child growth and development in ways that have long-term consequences on health and disease risk.

CANUE to host inaugural workshop

CANUE will bring together a diverse group of experts and knowledge users at an inaugural workshop in 2017. This workshop will focus on developing a clear set of values and a Strategic Plan, which will be implemented and refined through ongoing member engagement.

Research news – Weather & Climate

The CANUE project will enhance existing collaborations with Toronto Public Health that investigate both heat and airborne allergens. This work will use regional or global climate models to develop plausible future climate scenarios. One of our team members is developing a software platform that will allow users to access tailored climate scenarios. This software will be available in the public domain and used by CANUE. Our work will also leverage links to the Pacific Climate Impacts Consortium (PCIC, a regional climate service centre at the University of Victoria), Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC), and Health Canada.

Research news – Greenness

Recent studies suggest that urban greenness is associated with increased physical activity, reduced deaths from obesity, and lower risk of adverse birth outcomes. Research also shows links between greenness and socio-demographic factors both at individual and neighborhood levels. This indicates that wealthier people, who are already in a good health state, may be more-likely to choose – and afford to live near – green spaces. Health inequalities related to socioeconomic status appear smaller in green areas, however, suggesting a buffering effect. Additional research is needed to better understand how equity or neighborhood measures of socio-demographic status interact with available greenness to affect human health.