Brock gains Canada Research Chair in Child Health Equity and Inclusion

Karen Patte, well known for her long-running national research on youth health, is Brock University’s newest Canada Research Chair (CRC).

For almost a decade, the Associate Professor of Health Sciences has played key leadership roles in Canada-wide studies identifying and assessing factors affecting mental and physical health in adolescents.

Patte, who on Wednesday, March 13 was announced as Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Child Health Equity and Inclusion, aims to expand this research through the creation of a new Brock-based national research centre.

“Brock has some exciting strengths in the areas of child and youth health, including leading-edge research focused on health equity and childhood adversity, employing varied disciplines and methods,” says Patte. “My hope is to establish a centre that would enhance our impact by building on these collaborations at Brock and outside the University.”

Patte’s Canada Research Chair position is part of a funding bundle announcement delivered by Minister of Transport Pablo Rodriguez on behalf of Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry François-Philippe Champagne.

“Dr. Patte is at the forefront of child and youth research, where her broad perspective brings much-needed attention to addressing inequities that shortchange children,” says Acting Brock Vice-President, Research Michelle McGinn. “This Canada Research Chair helps to build capacity for Dr. Patte’s research, and it contributes toward the wide-ranging network of related work in the research community at Brock and across the country.”

Patte co-leads the national COMPASS study along with Scott Leatherdale at the University of Waterloo. Each year, the study collects health survey data from students and secondary schools in Ontario, Alberta, Quebec, British Columbia and Prince Edward Island. About 84,000 students at 185 schools participated last school year. The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) is funding the project until 2027.

The project studies how individual, social and environmental factors, including policies and programs at the school and government levels, interact to affect youth health and behaviours, such as mental health, substance use, sleep, physical activity, screen use and bullying.

Some of Patte’s other research activities include:

With her CRC, Patte plans to expand the understanding of how barriers can be removed to ensure all children and youth have the opportunity to flourish in Canada.

“Equity research has largely focused on individual identity factors, such as race or gender, which are definitely important, but we need to look at the social and economic factors that drive these inequities,” she says. “This is also where the value of drawing from varied disciplines and methods comes in, allowing us to better understand how the social determinants ‘get under the skin,’ as they say.”

Patte envisions four key activities for the new centre:

  • Investigating how factors at the individual, school and wider societal levels interact to decrease or increase health disparities over time.
  • Improving research methods so that youth experiences and concerns are better represented.
  • Offering training and mentorship opportunities in youth health and equity research.
  • Enhancing ways of applying research and informing policies and programs.

Patte aims to build on collaborations with other Brock-based child and youth research programs – such as the national Canadian Health Behaviour in School-aged Children Study led by Professor of Health Sciences William Pickett — as well as researchers in other institutions.

Key to success in these areas continues to be the active participation of youth in all stages of research planning, implementation and knowledge mobilization, says Patte, adding that when this process is followed, “the research better reflects their experiences and needs, and results in more effective policies and practices.”

Our research has found that the leading recommendation that youth have for adult decision-makers is to talk to youth,” says Patte. “We’re continuing to enhance that youth engagement by advancing the practice of how we authentically integrate youth voice into the work, particularly focused on underrepresented populations.”

Brock receiving a CRC in Child Health and Equity and Inclusion “demonstrates the commitment Brock has to research, more specifically child and youth research,” says Vance Badawey, Member of Parliament for Niagara Centre.

“I commend Dr. Patte on her work so far and look forward to seeing how she will use this role to contribute even more to Brock University and the Niagara region,” he says.

Patte’s inclusion as a CRC is “another exciting success story for St. Catharines and Brock University,” says Chris Bittle, Member of Parliament for St. Catharines. “Her studies on youth health and well-being are more important than ever, and I am glad to see this research receive additional support from the Government of Canada.”

The Canada Research Chairs program invests up to $311 million per year to attract and retain some of the world’s most accomplished and promising minds. Chairholders aim to achieve research excellence in engineering and the natural sciences, health sciences, humanities and social sciences.

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