Brock houses Ontario behavioural research hub as part of national initiative

Brock University has been selected as the Ontario hub of a Canada-wide program that trains students and novice researchers on how to evaluate behaviour-change initiatives in health care.

“Clinical trials are often designed for testing new drugs in the pharma industry,” says Assistant Professor of Kinesiology Sean Locke, who chairs the Ontario hub. “We want to provide students with the same knowledge and training to conduct behavioural trials for research that would lead to developing programs for diabetes prevention, cardiac rehab, smoking cessation or lowered obesity.”

The hub is the central Ontario component of the Canadian Behavioural Interventions and Trials Network Training Platform, a country-wide, $5-million initiative funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and partners who are providing cash and in-kind support.

Headquartered at Concordia University in Montreal, the research team co-led by Locke and eight other researchers is developing training programs that will give graduate students, post-doctoral fellows, and medical and health trainees knowledge and skills to evaluate behaviour-change interventions.

There will also be training on how to integrate these interventions into health-care practice.

More than 70 partners from the health-care sector, community organizations, government and post-secondary institutions are collaborating to create and deliver the training programs, which teach how to co-ordinate and facilitate behaviour-change clinical trials.

Topics being covered include how to register a protocol, obtain research ethics, interview research participants and measure outcomes of behaviour-change interventions.

It’s long been shown that eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, avoiding smoking, limiting alcohol consumption and adhering to medicine and vaccine schedules are among behaviours that promote health and prevent, or mitigate, disease.

“There have been thousands of studies to understand the psychology of behaviour change,” says Locke. “Behavioural interventions try to change the way people think about their behaviours by using strategies to get people to regulate their motivation and set goals.”

But such initiatives are rarely integrated into the mainstream Canadian health-care system despite evidence that they are effective, says Locke. This is an oversight the country-wide project is aiming to address, he adds.

Locke says the focus of the Ontario hub is to connect students with a wide range of health-care stakeholders. The hub provides around 12 scholarships per year for three years to fund student internship opportunities across Canada and will also host students at Brock, he says.

“We’re really excited to build capacity, provide additional networking opportunities for students with people who work in the field of behavioural medicine, and build those cross-Canada and cross-Ontario connections,” says Locke.

The Ontario hub is based in Brock’s Department of Kinesiology, with collaborations led by Professor of Health Sciences Deborah O’Leary, Associate Professor and Canada Research Chair in Adjustment and Well-Being in Children and Youth Danielle Sirianni Molnar, the Office of Research Service’s Knowledge Mobilization Officer Jayne Morrish and Master of Science student Isabelle Hill.

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