My Health, My Community Survey: How lifestyles, neighbourhood and environment affect health over time
Everyone knows “we are what we eat”: eating right, exercising often and seeing your doctor regularly are great starting points, but our wellbeing is determined by other factors as well:
- How long and stressful is your commute?
- Do you have easy access to parks and community centres?
- Can you take time to enjoy simple pleasures like hanging out with friends and family?
A partnership amongst Vancouver Coastal Health, Fraser Health and UBC Faculty of Medicine, the My Health, My Community survey is designed to help assess how our lifestyles, neighbourhood and environment work together to affect our health and wellbeing. The survey will help guide the decision-making of local community groups and government in shaping programs and community services.
Survey participants answer questions about their health/healthcare and lifestyles as well as their social, economic and physical environments. My Health My Community is the first survey tailored for individual municipalities and neighbourhoods within a city, designed to line up with local government and community boundaries, which improves its usefulness to decision-makers.
The goal is to reach 40,000 people by March 31, 2014, a large enough sample size to make it representative by age, sex, ethnicity, education, and income.
However, according to a report in the Langara Voice, “Despite the survey only taking around 10-15 minutes to fill out on average, completion rates are low. Of 40,000 adults VCH hoped for, only 15,000 people have completed the survey. The lowest response is from females aged 18 to 29 and males aged 18 to 39.”
In The Voice, Chris Quigley, a Translink senior planner, said “One of the strengths of the survey is that it’s longitudinal, so we can see how people’s health changes over time, and we can then match that to how the built environment of transport infrastructure and services changes over time as well,” he said. “It allows us to make those connections between if we were to put more service into an area, we can then track how health changes as a result.” The survey enables TransLink to tailor services in the most effective way possible for residents’ health. “We could identify certain parts of the region and say ‘look at this neighbourhood, it benefits from good walking and cycling infrastructure, it also has a healthy population compared to the regional average’,” he said. “[Which] is a good piece of evidence to say why we should be making the business case for investing in that type of infrastructure more broadly in the region.” The survey also explores access to community services, such as fitness facilities, which is useful to municipal governments when planning capital projects.
The survey has already been used to test information that doesn’t seem to add up. Responding to the Canadian Community Health Survey report in 2010 that smoking rates in Richmond, BC had risen to 18.5%, researchers decided to conduct a pilot study in Richmond in 2012 as part of the My Health My Community survey. In the Georgia Straight, Dr. Jat Sandhu, Regional Director for Public-Health Surveillance, is quoted, “In a 10-day period, we actually achieved a sample size that was four times higher than anything a national or provincial survey would have given us,” and showed that the smoking prevalence in Richmond was only 7.7 percent.
Sandhu said the survey probes everything from access to safe and nutritious food to air and water quality to factors leading to social exclusion. It gathers data on incomes, educational levels, ethnicity, and prevalence of chronic diseases, as well as the percentage of the population that has access to a family physician. “Where you live, learn, work, and play affects your heath,” Sandhu said. “People who are more socially connected are more likely to have more positive lifestyle behaviours.”
Sandhu emphasized that nothing can replace the compulsory long-form census, but My Health My Community can “fill part of the gap” by reporting on correlations of census characteristics with people’s health and well-being. “We’re going to be able to look at it at the individual level because we will have that person’s socioeconomic status together with their health outcomes.”
The survey is open to anyone 18 years and older who lives in the Vancouver Coastal Health or Fraser Health region.