Describe your job at the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC).
I am a project manager with the Population & Public Health team, and am pretty sure I have the best job at the BCCDC. As a team, our goal is to prevent chronic disease and injury by addressing broader social determinants such as food security and healthy eating, health equity, healthy communities and schools, and the built environment. We work very collaboratively with the regional health authorities, Ministry of Health, and various community based organizations.
I manage the healthy built environment
(HBE) program area, and my focus is on the ways in which population health and individual lifestyle choices are influenced by our surroundings. Everyone knows how hard it can be to change unhealthy habits, even with the best of intentions and strategies, because we’re human and human nature is what it is! However, we are much more likely to be healthy if our homes and public spaces are designed so that we can easily interact with our neighbours, be close to nature, eat well, and be physically active.
What changes do you anticipate in your field over the next decade?
This field of HBE is relatively new, but awareness and research on the built environment has exploded since this portfolio started in 2006.
The mental health benefits and restorative effects of exposure to natural environments is a new research area that I’m super intrigued by. We know that nature is good for us but we don’t necessarily know how much exposure or how often is most beneficial. There’s fascinating work being done at the Urban Realities Lab at the University of Waterloo to actually measure this through frontal lobe activity. In addition to the health benefits of being in “wild” natural environments, researchers are also starting to see that physical and mental health benefits can be triggered in high density residential areas with good green landscaping.
There is wonderful research on everything from dog parks to rainbow crosswalks that show how sometimes simple planning solutions can have big effects in terms of inviting positive social interactions and fostering a sense of safety and community identity.
What inspired you to take up a career in public health?
There is a great graphic put out by the Canadian Medical Association called What Makes Canadians Sick
. It shows that only 15% of what makes people sick is related to their biology or genetics, 25% is related to healthcare services which includes things like access to healthcare and wait times, while up to 60% is related to lifestyle factors and the environment. Things like income level, early childhood development, food and nutrition, housing and community belonging have huge impacts on our health and as healthcare providers we have an important role to play.
I’m inspired by the need to examine and develop early, upstream initiatives that help prevent people from getting sick and needing healthcare services in the first place. Our individual health and the health of our families, friends and neighbours is the most important thing. Isn’t everything somehow related to public health?
What professional accomplishment are you most proud of?
Population health involves long term approaches and we absolutely depend on our strong relationships with our partners. I’m very proud of the web of collaborators and networks our team has built with the regional health authorities, local governments and universities. The success of these networks reflects our values as a team and how we work.
Also, I’m proud of the updated Healthy Built Environments Linkages Toolkit which will be launched in the fall. The Toolkit is a widely used and practical reference resource for health professionals which synthesizes research on aspects of the built environment and how these are correlated to population health outcomes. For example, creating mixed land use is strongly associated with increased walking and cycling which is linked to a range of health benefits including increased social well-being and economic co-benefits. We are currently creating a new HBE Toolkit page on our team website which is where the revised version will be posted, but you can see the original HBE Toolkit here
How does your work improve patient care?
Our goal as the Population & Public Health team is to increase the health of populations and therefore indirectly help to decrease demand for health services over the long term. We improve patient care by preventing people from becoming patients in the first place. We work on a broad systems and policy level to promote healthier lifestyles and equitable access to services.
An interesting/surprising fact about you?
I am happiest in the outdoors and am always up for spontaneous camping or hiking trips. I think my favorite right now is the Sea-to-Summit hike in Squamish, though I don’t get to go as often as I’d like! I usually have treats in my desk (and I’m happy to share) and if you ask me about my little five-year-old daughter, I will talk your ear off with stories of her cuteness.