Healthy Immigrant Children (HIC) Study

Despite the growing number of newcomers, including immigrants and refugees, in Saskatchewan, little is known about their nutritional and health status and needs. This project will identify the major nutrition and health issues and intervention needs for immigrant and refugee families, especially their children who represent a more vulnerable group.

The objective of this research project is to characterize health and nutrition issues that affect immigrant and refugee newcomer children. There will then be a comparison of the impact of income-related household food insecurity on the health and nutrition status of newcomer children to those of Canadian children. In addition, the current support system for immigrants and refugees will be assessed.

In a cross-sectional design, we have taken measurements from a sample of newcomer children who have been living in the cities of Saskatoon and Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada for no more than 5 years. We chose 5 years, as studies have suggested the greatest change in lifestyle and diet occurs within this 5 year period. The most recent testing period for this study occurred from 2012-2015. We hope to continue this study in the future.

Culture, Migration & Food Security(CMF)

The CMF research team is led by Dr. Hassan Vatanparast, with a commitment to improve food security conditions among immigrant and refugee populations located in Canada and in other countries. . Currently we are working on following SSHRC funded projects targeting Afghan and Syrian refugees, with an objective to bring together researchers, NGOs and policy makers to determine, the impact of socioeconomic and cultural factors on food insecurity.

These studies provide the opportunity to understand barriers toward integration to the new community and how culture and social integrations affect the food security status of refugees. Socio-economic and cultural determinants will be explored and the results will be used to modify current approaches and/or plan new and specific strategies for improving the food security status and overall well-being of refugees. With this research, we hope to improve the integration of refugees into their new societies, which could result in higher socio-economic statuses, and improved food security statuses and health outcomes.

What is Food Security?
“Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”. (World Food Summit, 1996)

Why food security among refugees?
Food insecurity has negative social, economic, cultural, psychological and somatic consequences. Accordingly, food insecurity is one of the critical problems influencing the health and well-being of vulnerable populations such as refugee newcomers who are faced with resettlement in a new environment where socio-economic and cultural determinants may facilitate or hinder their adjustment.

Why Afghan Refugees?
Thirty years of conflict in Afghanistan has forced many Afghan families out of the country. Countries such as Iran and Pakistan are typically the first point of entry, with Canada, Australia, and Switzerland, as the final destination. These countries currently host a considerable number of Afghan refugees who are facing challenges in resettlement. Along their journey to resettle in new countries, they are struggling to meet their basic needs. Environments, events and experiences that occur before arrival impact the coping and integration experiences by resettled refugees. Language and cultural differences often present general barriers and challenges to integration and resettlement.

Why Syrian refugees?
To date, the civil war in Syria has displaced more than three million civilians to countries around the world. Canada resettled over 43,000 Syrian refugees since December 2015, a large initiative for a country with an average annual resettlement rate of 26,000 refugees. This resulted in delays in providing financial assistance, immigration, and resettlement services to this vulnerable cohort and thus exacerbating their food insecurity issues. Additionally, the sudden nature of their displacement, did not give families enough time to be prepared for life in their new country. Predominately composed of families with young children, Syrian refugees have limited income, education, language skills, and limited social capital and many are suffering from the negative effects of the sudden and prolonged period of displacement. Hence, there is an urgent need to understand the food security status of Syrian refugees.

List of current projects

  1. The impact of socio-economic and cultural factors on household food insecurity of refugees: a comparative study of Afghan refugees at the last country of residence after migration and in Canada, involves international partners from Canada, Iran, Pakistan, Australia, and Switzerland. It started in 2012, and is currently at the data analysis stage.
  2. The impact of socio-economic and cultural factors on household food security of Syrian refugees in Canada, focuses on Syrian refugee families who have resettled in Toronto and Saskatoon since November 2015.
  3. The impact of socio-economic, geography and cultural factors on household food insecurity of Syrian refugees resettled in rural areas and small cities across Saskatchewan, explores the food security status of Syrian refugees in rural areas and small cities in Canada
  4. The impact of socio-economic, geography and cultural factors on household food insecurity of Syrian refugees: a comprehensive study after resettlement in Canada, focuses on Syrian refugees settled in Francophone and Anglophone rural and urban areas.

Healthy Start/ Départ Santé (HSDS)

HSDS is a population health intervention program designed to encourage and enable families and educators to integrate daily physical activity and healthy eating in the lives of children 3 to 5 years of age. In a pilot study, the program was shown to be effective in helping educators increase physical activity and healthy eating opportunities. However, the impact of the program on young children’s healthy eating, total food intake, and physical activity has yet to be determined. The HSDS program is now being expanded to early learning centres in Saskatchewan and New Brunswick as these two provinces have a prevalence of overweight and obesity among children ages 0-5 years above the national average.

The implementation of a Smart Menu App has been approved for phase III of HSDS. This will involve the implementation of a menu resource in the form of an online tool to help train childcare centre staff to prepare healthy meals for children. Phase III also includes the cultural adaptation of HSDS with a focus on newcomers and Indigenous Peoples. This study is led by Réseau Santé en français de la Saskatchewan and collaborates with researchers from the fields of nutrition, epidemiology, kinesiology, and computer sciences from the University of Saskatchewan and University of New Brunswick as well as centres such as SPHERU.

The Linking Immigrants with Nutrition Knowledge (LINK) Project

girlcooking The LINK he LINK Project offers a unique learning experience to undergraduate nutrition students and newcomer families. During the project, students are partnered with an immigrant or refugee family. These student-family groups meet over the course of the semester and share about their food cultures and food traditions. Students and newcomer families cook traditional cultural dishes together and celebrate the wide variety and diversity of healthy cultural food. The LINK Project benefits both students and newcomer families. Students gain experience in interacting with people from other cultures, begin to understand the challenges faced by newcomers in Canada, and learn to see the important connections between food and culture. In turn, newcomer families gain an understanding of how food and nutrition impact overall health, and learn about the Canadian food culture. The ultimate goal of the LINK Project is to promote healthy ethno-cultural food by creating partnerships and lasting ties of friendship. The next series of the LINK Project will be in the Fall of 2017.

Voices in Vision Project

boywithcameraVoices in Vision is a unique research project that stemmed from the HIC study. The purpose of V in V is to qualitatively examine immigrant and refugee youths’ perceptions of their food environments, allowing for insight into the challenges faced by their unique ethno-cultural groups with regards to food. This study will use the Photovoice research technique, which allows participants to express their experiences and perspectives through the use of photography. Photographs will then be displayed in a public setting in order to draw attention to issues identified and potentially stimulate action from policy-makers, nutrition educators, settlement workers, and others in the general public. The opportunity to participate directly in research through the fun aspect of photography will instill value and confidence into youth as their voices are heard throughout the community. Voices in Vision Pilot Project II was implemented during the Spring/Summer of 2013. Lessons learned from both pilot projects will be put into planning towards a larger V in V project which will be implemented soon.