Research co-led by Brock explores link between nature and disease prevention in new immigrants – The Brock News
For children and young people who have recently moved to Canada, a hike in the woods may be just what the doctor ordered to prevent obesity and type 2 diabetes.
Sujane Kandasamy, a postdoctoral fellow in the INfant, Child and Youth Health (INCH) lab and the Department of Child and Youth Studies at Brock University, co-leads a research team to create a “connection to nature” for new immigrant families who encourage outdoor activities as a means of avoiding future chronic diseases.
Some of these activities include hiking and walking in parks, community gardening, and greater integration with existing community programs.
“Connecting to the natural environment can be very beneficial for physical health as well as mental health and well-being,” says Kandasamy, who joined Brock in January 2022 after completing her doctorate at the McMaster University.
The research is taking place in the Riverdale area of Stoney Creek, where many immigrants settle upon arriving in Canada, Kandasamy says.
The project, “Strengthening Community Roots: Grounding Newcomers in Wellbeing and Sustainability” (SCORE!), received $870,000 from the Public Health Agency of Canada.
Co-director of the research is Sonia Anand, Professor of Medicine and Tier 1 Canada Research Chair at McMaster University, Brock Associate Professor of Child and Youth Studies and Canada Research Chair in Mental Health and youth performance Matthew Kwan, and other researchers at McMaster University and the University of Toronto.
Researchers will work with the Riverdale community to design and conduct research and analyze study results.
In parallel, the team will create a diverse community advisory action board involving different sectors to guide research activities, including pilot testing of proposed inventions and how to measure success through things like academic performance, children’s mental health and healthy eating practices.
The project’s Community Action and Advisory Committee will be made up of members of neighborhood families, public health agencies, schools, faith-based organizations, local nonprofits, the City of Hamilton, from McMaster University and neighborhood organizations, among others.
“As this project is rooted in multi-sector partnerships, we envision that cultivating different avenues to bring these diverse groups together will help sustain longer-term collaborations,” says Kandasamy. “Many people and organizations have worked hard in the community; we want to build and strengthen these existing networks.
Eating unhealthy foods and being physically inactive are major risk factors for developing obesity and type 2 diabetes. These unhealthy behaviors often begin in childhood, Kandasamy says.
She notes how recent immigrants to Canada, compared to populations who have been in the country for a long time, face social and health inequalities, including lower consumption of fruits and vegetables; lower rates of physical activity in adults and children; lower employment rates; and live in substandard housing.
Food insecurity and poverty rates tend to be higher in newcomer populations, and “non-white children have a higher incidence of childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes compared to white children.” “, explains Kandasamy.
“Establishing healthier habits during childhood through a strong connection to the environment has the potential to lead to long-term behavior change throughout life,” she says.