To recognize World Health Day on April 7, U of G News has highlighted some professors whose research is helping to improve health for people around the world. They are available for media interviews.
HEALTHY URBAN SPACES
Prof. Faisal Moola, Department of Geography
Despite being a vast nation of mountains, forests and ice, Canada is truly an urban society. More than 82 per cent of Canadians live in cities and suburbs. According to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Canada is among the top 50 urbanized nations on the planet, well ahead of the United Kingdom, Germany, Ireland, Italy and many other western European countries. New research is illuminating the importance of urban green space to the physical health and mental well-being of urban residents. According to research by Prof. Faisal Moola and his colleagues, city-dwellers living in neighbourhoods with more trees report lower incidences of cardiovascular disease and lower obesity rates as well as other so-called “eco-health benefits.” The take-home message is that we need to design our cities with more green space, such as local parks, tree-lined city streets and naturalized school grounds.
CHILDHOOD OBESITY PREVENTION
Prof. Jess Haines, Department of Family Relations and Applied Nutrition
Combatting the growing epidemic of childhood obesity is a top priority in Canada. A leader in studying this topic, Prof. Jess Haines is developing family-based interventions, as the home environment can strongly impact development of a child’s eating behaviour. In particular, she is interested in developing interventions to promote healthful behaviours among preschool children, since lifetime eating habits form at an early age. In her recent work, Haines has tackled topics from picky eating to the unique role of fathers in development of their children’s eating habits.
OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS AND DISEASE PREVENTION
Prof. David Ma, Department of Human Health and Nutritional Sciences
Prof. David Ma researches the role of omega-3 fatty acids from plants and seafood in our diet. Although Canadians get adequate amounts of plant-based omega-3 fatty acids in their diet, he says, they aren’t getting enough from marine sources. Omega-3s help in brain development and visual acuity, and offer heart health benefits. Ma has found that omega-3 fatty acids help in preventing breast cancer in animal models and that marine-based omega-3 fatty acids can inhibit tumour development. In a recent study, he discovered that marine-based omega-3 fatty acids are eight times more potent than plant-based fatty acids.
Ma is director of the Guelph Family Health Study and president of the Canadian Nutrition Society.
INDIGENOUS HEALTH AND NUTRITION
Prof. Hannah Tait Neufeld, Department of Family Relations and Applied Nutrition
Prof. Hannah Tait Neufeld conducts multidisciplinary and collaborative research with Indigenous women on the determinants of food choice and chronic disease prevention.
Prof Tait Neufeld says that in relation to the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action, there are seven that relate specifically to health. One of the most critical calls is #19 that states:
“We call upon the federal government, in consultation with Aboriginal peoples, to establish measurable goals to identify and close the gaps in health outcomes between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities, and to publish annual progress reports and assess long term trends. Such efforts would focus on indicators such as: infant mortality, maternal health, suicide, mental health, addictions, life expectancy, birth rates, infant and child health issues, chronic diseases, illness and injury incidence, and the availability of appropriate health services.”
“These gaps are only continuing to widen in many areas,” says Tait Neufeld. “It has been more than 20 years since the Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples was released. One of its main recommendations was a call for justice and equality all Canadian residents, yet major discrepancies continue to exist in health status measures and health services access.”
Tait Neufeld has worked in international nutrition policy and evidence-based guideline development with the World Health Organization. She studies health inequalities, factors influencing maternal and child health, and Indigenous food systems.
PREVENTING FOOD-BORNE ILLNESS FROM PRODUCE
Prof. Keith Warriner, Department of Food Science
A healthy diet includes lots of fresh produce, but Prof. Keith Warriner says lettuce and other produce items are the No. 1 cause of food-borne illness outbreaks. Warriner and his research team have developed technologies based on a forced-air ozone reactor and advanced oxidation process as an effective alternative to washing produce to improve food safety.
In his studies of food safety and microbiology, he works closely with industry in order to apply findings in a practical way. His work has helped in developing and implementing cooking instructions for poultry products in Ontario, and in creating decontamination methods for dry ingredients such as flour and chia seeds.
LENTILS AND BEANS AND REDUCING RISK OF CHRONIC DISEASE
Prof. Alison Duncan, Department of Human Health and Nutritional Sciences
Lentils and beans are both a powerhouse of nutrition and offer a creative variety to our diets while helping reduce our risk of chronic disease, says Prof. Alison Duncan.
She studies the biological effects of functional foods and nutraceuticals in chronic disease through human intervention studies. Duncan looks at how soy and its constituent proteins and isoflavones lower chronic disease risk. She also studies health effects of other dietary interventions, such as pulses, that are important in agriculture, food and human health.
CONTROLLING FOOD-BORNE PATHOGENS AND VIRUSES
Prof. Jeffrey Farber, Department of Food Science
Prof. Jeffrey Farber aims to discover novel good bacteria and the compounds they produce to control food-borne pathogens, such as listeria, and food-borne viruses. He’s developing scientific models to help predict food-borne outbreaks.
As a research scientist at Health Canada for many years, Farber helped develop many of Canada’s food safety policies. He is the director of the Canadian Research Institute for Food Safety at U of G.