Survey to help shape public health policies

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A few minutes on the phone could help shape policy on disease prevention.

Researchers at the University of Alberta have been surveying people across Alberta and Manitoba on their perceptions about various risk factors related to lifestyle, tobacco use, alcohol use, diet and physical activity.

Candace Nykiforuk, one of the researchers and St. Albert resident, says the survey results will help shape policy around chronic disease prevention. 

“We think it’s really important to know what kind of opportunities we have to create supportive environments for health and healthy eating,” she says. “We want to understand people’s knowledge of what causes chronic diseases like cancer, like heart disease, like lung disease.”

The survey was sent out in June and will wrap up at the end of the month.

Over the past three months 2,400 people of the general public have been contacted by phone, and 1,000 people who are considered ‘policy leaders’ have received the survey via email. The survey is being powered through Leger, a research intelligence group.

“Very often we see opportunities for healthy public policy to make a real and meaningful difference in the lives of everyday people,” she says. “Often times these opportunities are passed by because there isn’t good solid, rigorous information on the acceptability of those policies.”

The survey asks questions such as: whether the respondent believes excessive drinking is linked to cancer, whether unhealthy behaviours should be taxed, whether unhealthy products should be taxed and whether to implement an evidence-based food and beverage rating system for meals and snacks consumed by children.

Respondents’ answers will help determine policies to be put in place across both provinces.

For example, if the vast majority of respondents believe that smoking shouldn’t be allowed in parks, then policy could be shaped around banning smoking from those areas.

Nykiforuk says the School of Public Health at the university originally wanted to conduct the survey across Canada, but they stuck to two provinces due to funding issues.

“In terms of the demographic characteristics, Manitoba is relatively comparable. We had hoped to do this nation-wide, but it’s a pretty tight funding year.”

She says each year the survey receives a positive response from people and has given the university a vast insight into how people perceive overall health.

The preliminary results of the survey will come out later this fall. The information will be shared with the government and non-profit groups such as the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada.

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Dayla Lahring

Dayla Lahring joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2017. She writes about business, health, general news and features. She also contributes photographs.