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U of T researchers establish new consortium studying environmental impacts on public health

Gas emissions at a manufacturing complex in Toronto (UN Photo/Kibae Park via Flickr)

With more than 80 per cent of Canada’s population living in cities and globally more people move into urban locales, there is an urgent need to learn how to design and modify cities to improve – not degrade – public health. 

So University of Toronto researchers have established the Canadian Urban Environmental Health Research Consortium (CANUE), made up of more than 80 environmental health experts in academia, government, NGOs and the private sector, who will work together on an urban health research program to improve understanding of how cities can evolve to optimize health.

“This consortium will provide critical environmental health research so policy-makers and urban and regional planners can make evidence-based decisions when addressing the challenges of urbanization and growing suburbs,” said Jeffrey Brook, assistant professor of Occupational and Environmental Health at U of T's Dalla Lana School of Public Health and CANUE lead.  “Climate change and how it impacts cities and residents is another priority for CANUE.”

On May 18, Brook’s research team received funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research to examine issues such as sprawl, traffic congestion, car-dependency, social equity and sustainability.  

The research team will link standardized environmental exposure data about air quality, green space, walkability, noise, weather/climate and other aspects of the urban/suburban environment to existing human health data platforms, including the Canadian Partnership for Tomorrow Project.

Read more about Brook's research

“Much of our health and well-being begins at the neighbourhood level,” said Dalla Lana School of Public Health Dean Howard Hu, who is also part of CANUE. “This partnership will examine how environmental factors affect our health – from birth to old age – at an unprecedented, national scale.”

Brook adds that over time, CANUE will map where and how environmental conditions have been changing, and how that increases or decreases the risks to health. Climate change is also an important backdrop for CANUE’s research given the need for cities to reduce emissions and prepare for future impacts.

“With Canada at the forefront of a big data revolution to evaluate the health impacts of the built environment, CANUE’s partnership will allow us to link extensive geospatial and other exposure data to the wealth of population data in Canada,” said Brook, who is CANUE’s scientific director.

CANUE’s principal investigators also include U of T's Philip Awadalla (Professor of Population and Medical Genomics at U of T) and  Padmaja Subbarao (Assistant Professor, U of T’s Institute of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation), UBC's Michael Brauer (Professor of Population and Public Health) and Kim McGrail (Associate Professor in the School of Population and Public Health) and David Stieb (Medical Epidemiologist for Health Canada and Adjunct Professor at University of Ottawa’s School of Epidemiology, Public Health and Preventive Medicine).