For kids and teens who have just settled in Canada, a hike through the forest may be just what the doctor ordered to help prevent obesity and type 2 diabetes.
Sujane Kandasamy, a postdoctoral fellow at the INfant, Child and Youth Health (INCH) Lab and Department of Child and Youth Studies at Brock University, is co-leading a research team aiming to create a new “connection to nature” for immigrant families who Encourage outdoor activities to prevent future chronic diseases.
Some of these activities include hiking and walking in parks, community gardening, and greater integration into existing community-led programs.
“Connecting with the natural environment can be very beneficial for both physical and mental health and well-being,” says Kandasamy, who joined Brock in January 2022 after completing her PhD at McMaster University.
The research is taking place in the Riverdale area of Stoney Creek, where many immigrants settle when they first arrive in Canada, Kandasamy says.
The Strengthening Community Roots: Anchoring Newcomers in Wellness and Sustainability (SCORE!) project was awarded $870,000 by the Public Health Agency of Canada.
Co-leading 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 Youth Mental Health and 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 set up a diverse Community Advisory-Action Board involving various sectors to guide research activities, including pilot testing proposed inventions and measuring success against things like school achievement, children’s mental health and healthy eating practices.
The project’s Community Advisory-Action Board will consist of members from neighborhood families, public health facilities, schools, faith-based organizations, local nonprofits, the City of Hamilton, McMaster University, and neighborhood organizations, among others.
“As this project is rooted in multisectoral partnerships, we envision that cultivating different ways to bring these diverse groups together will help sustain longer-term collaborations,” says Kandasamy. “There have been many individuals and organizations that have worked hard in the community; We want to build and strengthen these existing networks.”
Unhealthy diet and lack of exercise are major risk factors for developing obesity and type 2 diabetes. These unhealthy behaviors often start in childhood, says Kandasamy.
She notes how new immigrants to Canada face health and social inequalities, including lower consumption of fruits and vegetables, compared to long-term residents; lower physical activity in adults and children; lower employment rates; and living in substandard apartments.
Food insecurity and poverty rates tend to be higher in newly arrived populations, and “nonwhite children have a higher incidence of childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes than white children,” says Kandasamy.
“Establishing healthier habits in childhood through a strong connection to the environment has the potential to lead to long-term behavior changes throughout life,” she says.