Government of Canada and Heart and Stroke Foundation take action on obesity

OTTAWA, March 8 /CNW/ - 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.

"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."

The successful projects are:

  • Identifying causal effects of the built environment on physical activity, diet and obesity among children.  Dr. Jason Gilliland and team (University of Western Ontario)
  • A moving study: Physical Activity and diet before and after residential relocation. Dr. Lawrence Frank, Dr. Michael Brauer, and team (University of British Columbia)
  • TIME (Tools, Information, Motivation, Environment) for health: a multi-level intervention to promote healthy eating in children and their families. Dr. Sara Kirk and team (Dalhousie University)

Neighbourhoods that are designed to encourage physical activity can literally be a lifesaver. Being physically active 150 minutes a week, in bouts of 10 minutes or more, can dramatically lower your risk of heart disease and stroke. Regular activity also helps prevent and control risk factors for heart disease and stroke such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and obesity. Yet only 15% of Canadian adults accumulate 150 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity each week.

The studies will also look at the impact of improved access to healthy foods.

"Healthy eating is a key factor in preventing heart disease," says Bobbe Wood, HSFC CEO. "By limiting the availability of unhealthy food choices and promoting healthier food options at home and in communities, we can help improve the health of children and their families."

She says that availability of nutritious food in communities, and one's access to it, can help reduce the risk of heart disease by as much as 30 percent.

Currently almost 50 per cent of Canadian adults and 37 per cent of Canadian children are either overweight or obese. Being obese increases the risk of developing heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, diabetes, and cancer.

The research will be discussed at the Sharing Knowledge - Building Links - advancing Research, Policy and Practice on the Built Environment workshop, being held in Ottawa from March 7 to 9. Researchers, decision- and policy-makers, designers, and planners from across the country will explore solutions that will contribute to improvements in the well-being and sustainability of our communities.

The workshop is co-sponsored by the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, the Canadian Institute for Health Information, the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer, the Public Health Agency of Canada, and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

Canadian Institutes of Health Research
For the past 10 years, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) has supported better health and health care for Canadians. As the Government of Canada's health research investment agency, CIHR enables the creation of evidence-based knowledge and its transformation into improved treatments, prevention and diagnoses, new products and services, and a stronger, patient-oriented health-care system. Composed of 13 internationally recognized Institutes, CIHR supports more than 13,600 health researchers and trainees across Canada.

Heart and Stroke Foundation
The Heart and Stroke Foundation, a volunteer-based health charity, leads in eliminating heart disease and stroke and reducing their impact through the advancement of research and its application, the promotion of healthy living and advocacy. (



Built Environment: Population Health Intervention Research

The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, in partnership with the CIHR Institute of Circulatory and Respiratory Health; Institute of Human Development, Child and Youth Health; Institute of Musculoskeletal Health and Arthritis; Institute of Nutrition, Metabolism and Diabetes; and Institute of Population and Public Health, is pleased to announce the results of the Built Environment: Population Health Intervention Research strategic initiative.

The aims of this strategic initiative are:

  • to support intervention research that examines programs, events and/or policy changes related to the built environment (outcome of community planning, design and implementation) and has the potential to address health problems at the population level;
  • to build population health research capacity in Canada to study the built environment and its impacts on obesity and other heath issues;
  • to encourage "horizontal" networks and collaboration among the different sectors such as urban planners, researchers from various disciplines (including trainees and new investigators), communities, government, industry, and non-profit organizations; and
  • to develop knowledge transfer and exchange (knowledge translation) opportunities between researchers and knowledge users. 

Three new research teams are being funded through this initiative:

Project Title: A moving study: Physical activity and diet before and after residential relocation

Principal Investigators: Dr. Lawrence Frank and Dr. Michael Brauer (University of British Columbia)

Total Grant Amount: $600,000

This Metro Vancouver study will investigate how different neighbourhood design attributes influence health over time. Researchers will compare built environment features and health of people before and after they move to a new neighbourhood. They will focus on diet, physical activity levels, body weight, and exposure to air and noise pollution. They will test how relationships vary across different age groups, ethnicities and income levels. Findings will advance the science and our understanding of how neighbourhood layout and design influence health outcomes across different populations.

Project Title: Identifying causal effects of the built environment on physical activity, diet and obesity among children  

Principal Investigator: Dr. Jason Gilliland (University of Western Ontario)

Total Grant Amount: $545,169

Research suggests that the built environment in which we live, play, shop, work, and go to school, influences obesity levels by making it hard or easy to be physically active and eat healthy foods. This study will assess how the built environment impacts physical activity and eating behaviours among elementary-school children in Southwestern Ontario. The research team will map all the environmental features that are believed to be barriers or enablers for physical activity and healthy diets (such as parks and fast food restaurants). Researchers will also use an innovative combination of observational tools including portable GPS, physical activity monitors, and diaries to investigate how the mapped environments are actually experienced and used by different groups of children, and if they have an effect on obesity levels. The researchers will also develop a free software program that can be used by planners, developers, and policy makers for studying existing and proposed developments. The ultimate goal is to provide information to guide policymakers and planners in making health-promoting changes in the built environment. 

Project Title: TIME (Tools, Information, Motivation, Environment) for Health: A multi-level intervention to promote healthy eating in children and their families  

Principal Investigators: Dr. Sara Kirk (Dalhousie University)

Total Grant Amount: $599,603

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. Researchers will also develop a toolkit for facility directors.

For further information:

Jenny Van Alstyne
Office of the Honourable Leona Aglukkaq
Minister of Health

David Coulombe
CIHR Media Relations 

Jane-Diane Fraser
Heart and Stroke Foundation
613.569.4361 ext. 273