How is your city affecting your health?

CIHR-funded consortium of environmental health experts to study effects of air pollution, noise and climate change, among other factors

If you're like most Canadians, you probably live in a city. In fact, 81 per cent of us live in urban or suburban areas. This is significant – for you, your neighbours and for policymakers – because where you live has a big impact on your health, and cities in particular affect your health in a variety of ways. For example, two CIHR-funded researchers recently found that the more walkable your neighbourhood, the lower your risk for diabetes and obesity.

To help us understand how living in cities affects our health – and how we can better design our cities with health in mind – CIHR provided $4.1 million in funding to a consortium comprised of more than 80 environmental health experts from across the country. The research project, entitled the Canadian Urban Environmental Health Research Consortium (CANUE), is being led by the University of Toronto's Dr. Jeffrey Brook from the Dalla Lana School of Public Health.

“With the establishment of CANUE a wide range of researchers in Canada are working more collectively than ever before to characterize key features of our urban and suburban environments and to connect these characteristics or environmental metrics with health researchers studying Canadian populations. This is truly an amazing opportunity to advance understanding of how urban planners, policy-makers and individuals can create and sustain healthy built environments far into the future,” says Dr. Brook.

The team's research will focus on six areas that affect our health:

  • Air pollution
  • Noise
  • Availability of greenspace
  • Extreme weather and climate change
  • Transportation options
  • Neighbourhood factors (e.g., urban design, land use, walkability, socioeconomic factors, etc.)

Over five years, the teams will measure how urban dwellers are exposed to or interact with the six areas above, separate this data by postal code and make it available to other researchers and policymakers for future use. Along the way, researchers will plug knowledge gaps, train early career investigators in environmental health and ultimately create new knowledge about the ways in which our cities influence the quality of our health.

“This novel research initiative will harness the power of data to learn how the urban environment shapes our health so that we can more purposefully design cities that are healthier to live in,” says Steven J. Hoffman, Scientific Director of CIHR's Institute of Population and Public Health and co-lead of CIHR's Environments and Health Signature Initiative.

“The establishment of CANUE is an important facilitator to better understand some of the fundamental aspects of where and how we live and their impact on our health. The data platform that will be created has the potential to generate a wealth of new knowledge, by this team and others, that will contribute to the improvement of our daily lives,” says Dr. Brian H. Rowe, Scientific Director of CIHR's Institute of Circulatory and Respiratory Health.

CANUE is a partnership between researchers from universities in seven provinces; government departments including Health Canada, Environment Canada and Statistics Canada; NGOs including the Heart and Stroke Foundation and the Canadian Cancer Society; and municipalities including, among others, the cities of Toronto, Edmonton and Vancouver.

CANUE is a key part of CIHR's Environments and Health Signature Initiative (EHSI), a priority research program that examines how the environments in which we live, work, play and study impact on health, development and well-being. CANUE is the latest investment through the Environments and Health Signature Initiative; this past spring, CIHR invested $16 million to study how our genes interact with our environment to contribute to chronic health conditions like asthma and diabetes.

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