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The Importance of Epidemiologic Studies and Public Health Policy in Canada

What is Health Policy?

Epidemiologic studies are critical to the development of health policy. Without various kinds of studies in humans, we wouldn’t have the basis to form good policies to improve the health of individuals, communities and populations. Epidemiologic studies help to identify populations at risk for developing diseases, other risk factors and some studies even tell us about the cost and benefit of reducing exposure to these risks and the impact on disease development and progression. Just as epidemiology is critical in policy development, health policy is an important part of the field of public health (Public Health Agency of Canada, 2008). What is health policy, anyways? While there are many different definitions out there, and this is even a debate among healthcare providers and health promotion practitioners, this definition (while long-winded) nicely summarizes the meaning:

Healthy public policies improve the conditions under which people live: secure, safe, adequate and sustainable livelihoods, lifestyles and environments, including housing, education, nutrition, information exchange, child care, transportation and necessary community and personal social and health services (Milio, 2001) With this broad definition in mind, healthy public policies can be many different things. It can be a ban on trans fats in prepared food, it can be a tax on sugary beverages, it can be rules around using screening tests for different diseases, rules around fortification of foods, or rules around physical activity for children at schools. Healthy public policy is also about how the Government of Canada spends money to improve and maintain the health of Canadians, through rules and regulations, but also through providing publicly funded programs to improve health. The key here is that the programs are funded (fully or partially) by the government.

Even though most policies and programs are based on evidence, we know that there are flaws, and it is hard for policies and programs to be perfectly suitable for all Canadians. As more research is published around the world, maybe the policies and programs should change and adapt to meet the needs of Canadians, today?

As you are learning about a health policy and the research that supports it, and does not support it, let’s think about how to get a message out about this health policy that needs to be revised. The global COVID-19 pandemic has brought the issue of mis- and disinformation to the forefront. It has shown us that when it comes to health, we are in an infodemic, which is the overabundance of information, both online and offline (World Health Organization, 2021). An Instagram account like @oncanadaproject is an example of using social media to disseminate evidence-based information on prominent issues to help people navigate this infodemic! Objectives: To learn more about a health-related policy or publicly funded program in Canada, to synthesize research that supports aspects of the program, to discover research that suggests that the policy may need to be revised. You will also create a 2 slide Instagram post to help educate your peers about the policy and research suggesting that it should change.

  1. The Role of Epidemiologic Studies in Policy Development

    Written portion

Give a scientific description of the disease that the policy or program is supposed to impact. What are the physiologic impacts of the disease, and describe the economic, social and psychological impacts.

Describe the policy or program, including what the policy or program is, who is responsible for delivering the program or implementing the policy and who specifically it is supposed to impact.

Provide an overview of epidemiologic studies that support the development of the policy or program. Be sure to highlight key methodological details that relate to the policy, and the results indicating effectiveness (or not!).

Not all policies are perfect! Find 2 studies that support changing the policy or program in some way.

Discuss the details of these studies, and the how modifying the policy or program would be expected to influence the physiologic, economic, social and psychological impacts of the disease.

Knowledge translation portion (2 mock social media slides + discussion post + response) For the science communication component of this assignment, students are asked to create a 2-slide social media post related to the health policy that they wrote about in the written portion of the assignment. The post should be designed for a lay audience, i.e., anyone on a social media app with little background knowledge on health policy.

The post should clearly, simply and concisely communicate on the following points:

What is the policy? Consider the following:

WHO does the policy impact?

WHAT is the rule/behaviour/procedure that the policy is addressing. I.e. Policy regarding physical activity in schools is addressing rules surrounding the amount of exercise that must occur within schools by children.

Discuss if there is new or competing literature that suggests that this policy need be revised. Science is also an evolving field. Policy is not set in stone and may require change as a result of new information coming to light, and changes in society over time. As a result, it can be important to be communicate and address whether new data confirms the adequacy of existing policy, or requires modification in order to accommodate new evidence.

Summarize competing/alternative evidence related to the policy.

Suggest whether policy-makers should consider making a change. Be clear about what part of the evidence indicates the change is necessary. For great ideas about how to organize and design the “slides” consider visiting @oncanadaproject. This organization of volunteers aims to disseminate information on prominent issues in Ontario, and utilizes social media to do so. The post at the following link describes the approach of various Canadian province’s approach to COVID-19, and shows a great example of how to clearly present information:

Limitations of Policies and Programs

There will be no limitations on the type of program used to generate the slides. Use of PowerPoint is suggested, and students should feel free to explore creative platforms such as Canva, Slidesgo, etc for templates. Students are not expected to pay for the use of any platforms but may choose to use the free services available on such platforms.

Citations on slides:

Any information you include in your slides should be referenced. For this project, please use superscript with the post, and provide the citation written at the bottom of the corresponding slide (Citation must have: first author, year, journal issue, volume, pages – this is an abbreviated citation style for you to use for this component of the project).

Slides will be posted on a Discussion Board for this course. Students should click the "Communication" Tab on Avenue to Learn, and then select "Discussions" from the options provided. Students should then select the topic "Please post your slides here!". Once within the “Please post your slides here!” Topic, students should click the blue button which reads “Start a New Thread”. The "Start a New Thread" will automatically bring you to a new page where you can add a subject line. The subject line should be something descriptive and include the policy you have chosen. See example in the screenshot below. In order to add your slides, you should select "Insert Image" where you will be able to upload 2 image files (i.e., JPEG) from your computer.

Once you post your slides, each student will post a comment or question about another peer’s post. Please comment on a post that has not yet received a comment, to ensure that all posts have a comment. Once your post has a comment from another peer, reply with a thoughtful answer or comment back to your peer. Note: Conversation related to the post does not need to be supported by any references to literature, but students may do so if it helps to illustrate a point or idea. Please keep comments kind and considerate. Please refer to the McMaster Netiquette guidelines (

Written portion

Overview of the disease/health condition that the policy or program is directed at /10

  1. Brief scientific explanation of the disease/health condition (i.e., physiologic impact, how does it develop, who does it affect)
  2. Discussion of economic, social and psychological impacts
  3. The majority of information cited should be from peer-reviewed literature, however foundation reports and governmental resources can be used.
  4. International research can be used.

Description of the policy or program /10

Details of the policy or program in Ontario or Canada

Who delivers or implements it?

Who is it supposed to impact?

Information cited may be from foundation reports and governmental resources, or from peerreviewed literature.

Synthesis of studies/reports that support the policy or program /10

Emphasis on methods that relate to current policy

Discussion about effectiveness of policy or program

The majority of information cited should be from peer-reviewed literature, however foundation reports and governmental resources can be used.

International research can be used.

Revision of the policy or program /10

Description of 2 studies that support changing the policy or program

Discuss the details of these studies, and the how modifying the policy or program would be expected to influence the physiologic, economic, social and psychological impacts of the disease.

The majority of information cited should be from peer-reviewed literature, however foundation reports and governmental resources can be used.

International research can be used, and the research presented does not need to chronologically precede the policy (i.e., if the policy was developed in 2012, you can use research from 2008. Sometimes policy makers can’t/don’t incorporate all research into creating policies)

Writing, formatting, spelling and grammar /5

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