CIHR funding helps Brock research impact of COVID-19 on youth

The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have been felt by all, but new Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) funding announced Thursday, Dec. 9 will help Brock researchers examine how the pandemic has impacted Canadian adolescents.

In June, the CIHR launched research funding opportunities to generate evidence to better understand and help mitigate the impact of the pandemic on children, youth and families in Canada, as well as for research that would support COVID-19 vaccination programs.

On Thursday, Minister of Health Jean-Yves Duclos announced the Government of Canada’s $13.7-million support of 89 COVID-19 research projects, including that of Brock University Assistant Professor of Health Sciences Karen Patte and Postdoctoral Fellow Markus Duncan, as well as Assistant Professor of Child and Youth Students Heather Ramey.

Patte and Duncan are leading a team of researchers from Ontario, B.C. and Alberta on the project “Changes in health behaviours among adolescents and social-ecological influences: Pandemic evidence for an equitable recovery.”

Using data collected by the team before and through the pandemic from Canadian adolescents, the research is looking at how COVID-19 has impacted various health behaviours, including physical activity, sleep, screen use, eating behaviour and substance use. The aim is to identify who was most negatively affected and what factors may help reduce the risk. The team is working in partnership with Public Health Ontario, ParticipACTION, schools and youth themselves to ensure the research reflects the diverse experiences of adolescents and meets the needs of those who can create change.

“Health behaviours tend to become established during adolescence and track into adulthood,” said Patte. “This research will help inform strategies to mitigate any sustained effects of the pandemic across the lifespan, targeting those who need them most, for a more equitable recovery.”

Ramey, meanwhile, is part of a research team with Heather Lawford, Associate Professor of Psychology at Bishop’s University and Canada Research Chair in Youth Development.

Working with the Students Commission of Canada (SCC), their study is inviting 1,000 Canadian youth who are LGBTQ2, rural, Indigenous, racialized, in-care and living with disabilities to share how COVID-19 and the restrictions it caused affected them. The team will explore how programs and services have changed to serve young people, and how these changes may have affected young people’s mental and physical health, relationships and well-being.

“Programs have adapted,” Ramey said. “We need to know how and for what young people those changes mattered. One of the strengths of the project is that it will be a partnership with young people who may be furthest from opportunity, and with community organizations who are doing this work.”

The nearly $150,000 funding for each project comes from the CIHR’s operating grant “Understanding and mitigating the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on children, youth and families in Canada.”

“Investing in science is essential to protect the health and well-being of Canadians during and after the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Duclos. “I congratulate the successful teams whose work will help to improve vaccine confidence and address the wide range of impacts this pandemic has had on Canadian families.”

Christine Chambers, Scientific Director, CIHR Institute of Human Development, Child and Youth Health, said the research “will play a critical role in building a healthier future for our children.”

“No child or family has been untouched by the COVID-19 pandemic. We are so pleased to be supporting diverse research teams from across Canada who will be leading important research aimed at understanding and mitigating the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on children, youth and families,” she said.

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