Youth Transforming Canada’s Most Pressing Health Issues

Youth Transforming Canada’s Most Pressing Health Issues

Marzena Zukowska's picture


About a third of all Canadian children are overweight or obese, and only 4.4 percent of children get the recommended amount of physical activity. 

Overall, physical inactivity and unhealthy eating are putting Canadians at risk of developing serious chronic conditions, such as type II diabetes, some cancers, and hypertension.

But COMPASS has a solution! Instead of creating a one-size fits all model, COMPASS is aiming to empower 50,000+ students to develop and evaluate their own solutions to the problems of youth obesity, inactivity and poor diet, and substance use. They are also one of the Early Entry Prize winners of The Play Exchange challenge.  So how exactly is the team going to create this impact? COMPASS’s Founder, Scott Leatherdale, gives us the full scoop:


Changemakers: How do you know what really works to keep young people from bullying behaviour, poor nutrition, or abusing drugs, alcohol, or tobacco?

Scott Leatherdale: We are creating practical evidence that shows which programs and policies are the most effective at preventing youth from engaging in unhealthy behaviours such as using alcohol, tobacco, or marijuana. For example, we want to know what policies should be in place at a school to prevent them from having a poor diet, to not be physically active, or to engage in bullying.


Changemakers: This evidence hasn’t already been collected and presented?

Leatherdale: There has been a massive amount of research conducted about school-based programs, but no one really knows which interventions work for which students. I wanted to develop a simple system that allows schools to truly understand what works and for who. COMPASS provides stakeholders with relevant evidence to help school-based programs be most effective.  

Changemakers: So you’ve broken new ground with the COMPASS solution?

Leatherdale: COMPASS is the first platform of its kind internationally to create the resources required for a comprehensive research, evaluation, and knowledge exchange system that incorporates a whole-school approach to school-based prevention programming. COMPASS uses a rigorous study design to evaluate how changes in school programs, policies, and/or built environment characteristics are related to changes in multiple youth health behaviours and outcomes over time.

COMPASS also facilitates knowledge transfer and exchange by annually providing each participating school with customized knowledge exchange tools and access to a knowledge broker to help connect them to relevant prevention resources. While this seems simple and straightforward in hindsight, no one had ever previously developed and implemented such a comprehensive system.


Changemakers: What does the future look like for healthy and active living in Canada? What trends can we expect?

Leatherdale: If I had to guess, I would expect to see ongoing declines in physical activity among youth as our society becomes more technology driven. However, I think there will be groups of youth, or communities, where this is not the case. Learning from those populations and communities will be key for understanding how to best intervene, moving forward.


Changemakers: What is your strategy to address this? Who is going to change things with your solution? 

Leatherdale: The senior administrators (such as the principal or vice-principal) at a school are the target audience. The schools that seem to be the most effective at promoting youth health are the schools where the senior administrators are the champions for change.


Changemakers: If someone told you they were interested in investing in COMPASS, what could you tell them to convince them that their money would make a difference?

Leatherdale: I would recommend that they fund some of the graduate students who are training with me on COMPASS. Currently, there is a lack of talented researchers nationally doing this type of applied research.

By investing in the training of the next generation of applied researchers, the capacity nationally can increase quickly and dramatically. This means we can reach more schools, more youth, and ultimately have a bigger impact.


Changemakers:  How did you get into this kind of work?

Leatherdale: I work in a faculty where applied research is highly valued and where we are encouraged to tackle the biggest issues of our time. As such, I devote my career to promoting the health of Canadian youth.


Changemakers: What happens to a typical young people who goes through your program?

Leatherdale: They become a student who progresses through high school and not only leaves with a great education, but is also living a healthier lifestyle when graduating than when they started.


Changemakers: What will you do with your Early Entry Investment from this competition? What impact will it have?

Leatherdale: I plan to use the investment to support some of the knowledge translation activities associated with COMPASS (i.e., talking with school stakeholders, developing new communication mechanisms for translating study results into action, etc.). I hope this has an impact by allowing me to more effectively communicate effective programming decisions rapidly.


Editor’s Note:  The Play Exchange is excited to announce the top three early entry winners! Learn more about the innovative solutions of COMPASS, Trottibus, and Femme and the Forest, and how you can participate by visiting today!

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