Does neighbourhood matter for children’s and youths’ physical activity and active transport?

The WHO ranked physical inactivity as the fourth most important non-communicable disease in the world. It is of grave concern that fewer than 1 in 10 young Canadians are meeting health-related activity guidelines. The built environment (city design, transport network) may facilitate children’s and youths’ physical activity, but intervention studies are needed to better inform public health policy and urban planning. I have the rare opportunity to address this gap in knowledge by capitalizing on our team’s close partnership with the City of Vancouver to assess if planned adaptations along the Comox-Helmcken Greenway (downtown) will positively influence children’s and youths’ physical activity.


Hypothesis: Children and youth attending schools in proximity to the Greenway will demonstrate a significant increase (or attenuation of age-related decline) in objectively measured physical activity (with a focus on active transport) compared with counterparts who reside elsewhere.


Specific objectives are to:

  1. Assess whether targeted changes to the built environment along the Greenway positively influence child and youth physical activity overall.
  2. Assess its impact on active transport.
  3. Explore how children, youth and their parents perceive and move within their neighbourhood, how closely perceptions are mirrored in objective assessments of the BE, and how barriers and facilitators to outdoor activity, active transport to school and other destinations conspire with intrapersonal and socio-cultural factors to influence behaviour.

For this natural experiment, I will utilize a non-equivalent control group design (intervention-vs. matched comparison schools). Building upon my successful pilot (Oct. ‘12), all measurements will be school- and class-based as preferred and approved by the Vancouver School Board (July 2012). Baseline assessments will be conducted in summer ‘13, and post-intervention assessments in summer ‘14 (depending on City’s timelines). I will use a variety of state-of-the art measurement and analyses tools, including: accelerometry and global positioning systems (when and where are children and youth active), Geographic Information Systems (ArcGIS, Esri; objective environment assessments), and a host of complimentary questionnaire data, including participant and parents’ perceptions, as well as their own physical activity.


This project has the potential to influence urban planning toward mobility-friendly design for young people.

National Transgender and Gender Variant School-age Youth Survey: Stigma, resilience, and mental health

While limited research has documented the mental health status of transgender and gender variant youth, the available evidence suggests this is an extremely vulnerable group.

This project will document the mental health issues and related risk exposures of transgender and gender variant youth in Canada. It will also explorehow their home, school, and community environments contribute to mental health.

The National Canadian Trans Youth Survey will sample transgender and gender variant youth nationwide, recruited through service providers and social networks. Survey questions will assess a broad range of physical and mental health outcomes and related behaviours, primarily drawn from existing national, provincial, and international school-based adolescent health surveys. This will allow direct comparison of trans and gender-variant youths’ health and well-being to the rest of the population. Dr. Veale will lead the mental health component of the project. This will involve exploring the relationship between young people’s social environments and mental health, including school experiences, family supports, and exposure to discrimination or violence. With a focus on specific mental health issues such as emotional distress, self-harm, suicidal ideation and suicide attempts, this research will identify both health inequities for trans and gender variant young people, as well as environments and experiences that contribute to mental health risk or resilience.

Analysis of all of these factors will identify potential intervention points for school and community strategies to improve the mental health and well-being of transgender and gender variant youth. The results will be taken back to the surveyed youth themselves, as well as academic audiences, education and public health stakeholders through a variety of knowledge-to-action strategies, and serves as the critical first step in developing policies and programs to promote the mental health of transgender youth.