COMPASS: Shaping Youth Health

COMPASS: Shaping Youth Health

The COMPASS Study: Shaping the Direction of Youth Health

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Last Update: June 18, 2014

COMPASS is the first platform of its kind internationally to robustly inform and evaluate the impact that innovative real-world changes in multiple school-based prevention programs, policies and built environment resources have on youth risk behaviours and health outcomes over time.

Founded: 2011 Type: hybrid

The Problem

Health behaviours linked to obesity (i.e., diet and physical activity) and substance use tend to be established during adolescence with most Canadian youth exhibiting one or more modifiable risk factors for future chronic disease. Research also suggests that within Canada, characteristics of the school students attend are associated with these negative behavioural outcomes among youth. Despite this, few effective school-based interventions exist.

The Solution

Two reasons school-based prevention programming has failed are: 1) the 'one size fits all' approach. Despite knowing that different schools have different challenges, student populations, and access to available resources, we want them all to use the same prevention programs; and 2) schools and students are not involved in developing the interventions despite knowing what solutions would be feasible for their given context. As such, we want to enable the 90 secondary schools participating in COMPASS (and the 50,000+ students) to develop and evaluate their own soultions to the problems of youth obesity, inactivity and poor diet, and substance use. Instead of creating one solution, we want to help create 90 innovative solutions.


As part of COMPASS, each school gets an annual school-specific feedback report that highlights the prevalence of the different student health behaviours or outcomes at their school. As part of the initiative proposed here, imagine how impactful it could be if each of the 90 participating schools were provided with $5,000 of seed funding to actually develop their own innovative solution for addressing one or more of the problems identified within their student population (i.e., obesity, physical inactivity, and/or poor diet). The added value of linking this to COMPASS is that my team can then evaluate the effectiveness of the 90 unique interventions and share that evidence with the Canadian and International research and practice community.


COMPASS (started in 2012) is the first and only study in Canada that collects longitudinal hierarchical data using a rigorous quasi-experimental research design required to effectively evaluate how ongoing and real-world changes in programs, policies, or built environment characteristics (i.e., natural experiments) are related to changes in youth health behaviours and outcomes over time. These design characteristics, coupled with our large sample size (50,000+ students in 90 schools) and existing infrastructure provide us with (a) the ability to effectively and efficiently oversee the development of the 90 different school-based innovations created by COMPASS schools, and (b) ample power to determine if the 90 unique prevention innovations developed as part of this initiative had any impact on changing youth health behaviours and outcomes over time.

Full Impact Potential

Health-promoting schools are empowered to take responsibility for protecting the health of their student population according to their needs and priorities, rather than having to be reactive to outside regulatory bodies. Our COMPASS initiative proposed here will be the first time in Canadian history where schools (and students) have be enabled to: (a) identify the unique prevention priorities of their school, (b) design and evaluate their own innovative solutions for addressing the real prevention priority issues within their school, and (c) we would generate new scientific evidence to share.

Budget: $500,000 - $1 million

Financial Sources

National government

Sustainability Plan

The foundational infrastructure of COMPASS is fully funded until May 2016 and then we will be requesting an additional 5-years of extension funding as per our funders guidelines. As such, we are 100% finacially sustainable until May 2016 and we would be considered highly likely to have future sustainability until 2015 via our renewal funding.


No one or team in Canada is currently trying to address the issue of youth physical inactivity, poor diet, obesity and substance use using hierarchical longitudinal data. The COMPASS study proposed here is the first of its kind internationally.

Founding Story

The largest National gap in our understanding of how to best intervene with youth populations in Canada was due to a lack of appropriate longitudinal data and intervention evaluation infrastructure. As such, it was clear that the way I could have the most impact on improving youth health nationally would be to dedicate my time and effort into developing the tools and infrastructure required to fill that gap. My hard work and dedication paid off when the Federal Government (via CIHR) funded me as the Principal Investigator to develop COMPASS. COMPASS is not only going to be a unique valuable Canadian asset for improving youth health, but it is also going to be the gold standard internationally.

Team Explanation

To date, COMPASS involves 15 university faculty investigators, 15 graduate students, 5 full-staff, 90 senior administrators within participating schools, and 40+ community stakeholders. Moving forward, we expect the number of new collaborators, investigators, and trainees to increase exponentially given our open and collaborative model.

Team Members



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