Four million in research funds for cities promoting good health

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December 9, 2016
Projet MUSE

Two teams at the University of Montreal Hospital Research Centre (CRCHUM) receive a four million dollar funding grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) to conduct two innovative research programs on the built environments of cities as a determinant in preventing chronic diseases and improving health.

Researchers Lise Gauvin and Yan Kestens are the two recipients of team grants of two million dollars each over five years in the special competition of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) “Programmatic Grants in Intersectoral Prevention Research.”

Prevention of chronic diseases 

Lise Gauvin

The last decades have seen the coming about in developed countries, and now in emerging countries, of a major increase in chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disorders, and several cancers that threaten public health. 

“We know the importance of adopting healthy eating habits and exercising to prevent these diseases. But our built environments – mainly our cities since 80% of the population live in urban areas – must provide the conditions to achieve this. Our urban infrastructures must be conceived to afford all citizens equitable access to sports facilities, active means of transport, healthy foods, and reasonably priced housing,” explains Lise Gauvin, CRCHUM researcher and professor at the Université de Montréal’s School of Public Health.

The project “Multisectoral Urban Systems for health and Equity in Canadian cities” (MUSE) will focus on the built environments of four large Canadian cities: Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver and Saskatoon. 

“Our research program will examine the intersectoral partnerships that involve health agents, municipalities, civil society, housing, etc. We will study the impact of these partnerships in modifying built environments by increasing the availability of fruits and vegetables, and promoting active secure transport and physical activity as well as affordable housing. We will also take into consideration the role of social and gender inequality,” sums up the principal investigator of the MUSE project.

Together with the public health directors of Montreal, Saskatoon, Toronto and Vancouver, the MUSE team comprising about fifty researchers and data analysts will identify the factors that determine the success of initiatives aiming to prevent new chronic disease epidemics. 

Natural urban laboratories

Yan Kestens

Directed by CRCHUM researcher Yan Kestens, a team of experts in public health, urban studies and geography, in collaboration with multiple organizations, will study four cases of important infrastructure investments and their impact on physical activity, social engagement, well-being and reduction of health inequalities. 

The project “Environments and Health INTERACT: INTErventions, Research, and Action in Cities Team” will examine the following developments:

  • In Vancouver, the Arbutus Greenway, a 9 km rail corridor that will be transformed into a pedestrian walkway and cycling route (British Columbia);
  • In Victoria, #Biketoria, a new cycle network of 24 km (British Columbia);
  • In Saskatoon, the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), a joint 22 km transport system alongside of three main corridors (Saskatchewan);
  • In Montreal, the Plan Montréal Durable (Sustainable Montréal plan) 2016-2020, which envisages several developments including measures to control traffic, plans for developing green spaces, and plans for fighting inequalities (Quebec).

“Our governments invest considerable sums in infrastructures. Ottawa, in its last budget, has committed to invest 12 billion dollars in public transport systems and sustainable development. These urban interventions may be studied as natural experiments: by modifying the environment, do we contribute to improving quality of life and public health? Do we reduce health inequalities? Surprisingly, the true impact of these investments is poorly documented. By studying their effects more specifically, we will better be able to guide decision makers toward outcomes that are sustainable and beneficial for all,” sums up Yan Kestens, also himself professor at the Université de Montréal’s School of Public Health and CIHR Applied Public Health Chair in Urban Interventions and Population Health.  

Additionally, Yan Kestens’ team expects to design and optimize various tools –cartographic applications, portable sensors, smartphone applications – to measure changes in our environments and health behaviours of citizens in their neighbourhoods.

Credit for the first photo: Direction régionale de santé publique de Montréal and CRCHUM