Patty Wellborn

Email: patty-wellborn@news.ok.ubc.ca


 

A female researcher discussing anatomy with a full classroom

New UBCO research asserts that more neuroscience literacy in the general population will result in health fads that are debunked before people invest their money and time.

With the holiday season fast approaching, many people may already be thinking of new resolutions to live a healthier lifestyle come 2022.

Elijah Haynes is a research assistant at UBC Okanagan’s School of Health and Exercise Sciences. He cautions jumping on the bandwagon of any new health trend or fad diet. Haynes, who researches neuroscience literacy, believes that if more people had access to scientific knowledge, new fads would be debunked before people invest their money and time.

Haynes talks about his recently published article in Advances in Physiology Education that discusses the need to improve neuroscience literacy, and how doing so might save lives.

What led to this particular research subject?

Working as an outreach educator for UBC Okanagan’s iSTAND program, I had many opportunities to teach a range of learners—preschoolers, retirees and everyone in between. While we provided activities for a number of different sciences, the neuroscience activities tended to be the most popular across all age groups. The neuroscience events also produced the most interesting discussions about the potential applications of science. I wrote the article hoping to make other physiologists and neuroscientists aware that there is a demand for neuroscience knowledge, and also highlight ways they can provide it.

How did you become interested in neuroscience, and concerned for neuroscience literacy?

I was training as a high school football player and I noticed how different strength coaches would talk about the neuroscience of getting stronger. I watched YouTube videos to learn more about how the nervous system controls movement and was so fascinated that I opted to pursue undergrad and graduate studies in kinesiology.

My experience as an outreach educator made it apparent that a lot of neuroscience research is misunderstood. Given the implications of neuroscience research, I became concerned that public misunderstanding of neuroscience might lead to its misapplication. Without sufficient public understanding, society won’t be able to effectively use the knowledge gained from neuroscience research.

What needs to be done to improve science literacy in our community?

Canadians are lucky in that we have a vast supply of highly educated people living here—everyone knows something about something. At the same time, people are hungry for knowledge about how the world works. Not only does scientific knowledge need to be accessible, but science-literate people should also be available to ensure that knowledge is appropriately understood.

People should also have opportunities to see science “behind the scenes.” It would be phenomenal if universities and colleges designated spaces on campus for regular community engagement events and exhibits. One of the contributors to misinformation spread is distrust. There is a perception that scientists are simply elites protected from public scrutiny by institutions and government. If citizens felt that research was something they could see for themselves, they might be more receptive to knowledge gained by science.

What role does enhanced science literacy play in contemporary health issues?

Many health disorders in Canada are related to modern lifestyles. People are living longer, residing in increasingly denser communities, have access to more food and fewer physical activity requirements than ever before. While culture and societal norms play a big role in determining how we behave in our current environment, empirical knowledge about the way our bodies, especially our nervous systems, will help people make decisions on how to live healthier lives.

I think most people are aware that health trends and diet fads exist, yet every year new ones rise as soon as the last ones are debunked. Quite frankly, it’s sad seeing people spend hard-earned money on these products and services. It’s my hope that greater science literacy will prevent these fads and trends from gaining popularity.

How can people use science to avoid falling for health fads?

People should know that science is more than just memorized facts and showy demonstrations. Science is a process that generates knowledge. We can apply that process to anything we want to know more about. It starts by asking a question, and proceeds by determining the best way to find an answer. In science, how a question is answered is often more important than the answer itself.

When it comes to health fads, people should consider multiple sources of evidence. Instead of just seeking information that promotes a new lifestyle routine, try looking for information to debunk that lifestyle routine.

So, improving science literacy can lead to healthier lifestyles?

Whether we’re talking about health or any other science-related topic, engaging with others is the best way to broaden our understanding. We’ve seen many examples of science driving people apart over the last few years. By acknowledging that people approach, learning from a diverse array of backgrounds and then working together to improve our collective understanding, science can actually be a means of bringing people closer together. When this happens, science does more than just teach us about the world. Science creates connections between people. And those connections can create a healthy, thriving community.

A photo of a person on a treadmill and a student helper

UBC Okanagan’s Small Steps for Big Changes diabetes prevention program helps people at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes learn how to make healthy diet and exercise changes.

What: A week of activities and lessons to mark World Diabetes Day
Who: Community partners including the YMCA, Okanagan College and the Okanagan Regional Library
When: November 8 to 14
Where: Various virtual and in-person events throughout the week

As Word Diabetes Day approaches, a group of students and faculty in UBC Okanagan’s Diabetes Prevention Research Group are making plans for a week of healthy and fun-filled activities.

Dr. Mary Jung, an associate professor in the School of Health and Exercise Sciences, is principal researcher of the lab, which strives to help people lower their risk of developing Type 2 diabetes by empowering them to make diet and exercise changes.

World Diabetes Day takes place on November 14 and Dr. Jung says the goal of the day is to increase the community’s awareness about diabetes.

“There are many people who may be at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes and don’t know it,” says Dr. Jung. “We have a week full of scheduled events where people can learn more about their likelihood of developing diabetes, and discover what resources are available to the community while they enjoy fun activities.”

Dr. Jung leads the Small Steps for Big Changes diabetes prevention program. Her team has organized a number of virtual and in-person events during the week of November 8 to 14. People can try pickleball, listen to expert speakers, try a virtual Zumba lesson or head to a local YMCA for an exercise class. All events are free and open to everyone.

The featured event is a cooking class with Okanagan College’s Kelsey Oudendag, a red seal chef and culinary arts instructor. Participants will learn, in person or virtually, how to make delicious and healthy meals on a budget. Free registration for this class has been made possible by generous partnerships with the Central Okanagan Food Bank, Okanagan College (OC) and Dr. Jung’s lab.

“I am so excited to welcome people into the kitchens at OC to learn how to cook delicious and healthy meals on a budget,” says Oudendag. “I hope people come away inspired and empowered with some new culinary skills and knowledge they can apply at home in their daily lives.”

The week culminates with an outdoor drop-in day of play and activities on Sunday, November 14. People are encouraged to visit Jung’s Small Steps team at Rowcliffe Park in downtown Kelowna, between 11 am and 3 pm to join in free beginner exercise classes and earn prizes.

For more information about the week and to register for activities, visit: smallsteps.ok.ubc.ca

A photo of Dr. Jenn Jakobi

UBCO’s Dr. Jenn Jakobi new role as the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada Chair for Women in Science and Engineering for the BC/Yukon region will help her provide leadership and empower change for underrepresented people in science, technology, engineering and math.

Dr. Jenn Jakobi is a scientist, a teacher and a mentor. Her work focuses on neuromuscular and exercise physiology with the long-term objective of keeping our aging population healthy and independent.

Part of her passion and commitment to research is sharing knowledge and creating opportunities for everyone to learn. She and her team of students and staff produce written articles and guides, as well as videos and podcasts, making sure the science conducted in university labs gets into the living rooms of everyday Canadians.

Beyond science translation, Dr. Jakobi has another passion. She is committed to increasing diversity across science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs. She coordinates and hosts youth outreach camps and activities, and conducts professional development workshops to enable organizational change that will build equity, diversity and inclusion changes in STEM enterprises.

This month, Dr. Jakobi takes on a new role as the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada Chair for Women in Science and Engineering for the British Columbia/Yukon region. This Westcoast Women in Engineering Science and Technology (WWEST) program mobilizes her leadership to roles that encourage, explore, understand and empower change for underrepresented people in STEM.

Your initiative, the integrative STEM Team Advancing Networks of Diversity (iSTAND) Program, continues to grow at UBCO. Can you tell us about this program and how it relates to your new role?

iSTAND developed as a project I started in 2014. I saw a need to engage youth in hands-on science activities and I saw resources here at UBCO that would allow for this to happen, particularly for girls. The goal was to ensure they understand how science is a part of bettering our world.

Research shows that young girls are interested in science. We just need to make a connection with them as early as possible.

I started small, by visiting classrooms and explaining how science can create a meaningful and positive difference in all our lives. This initiative grew to busloads of kids visiting campus to actively engage with classmates in neuroscience experiments. We made it relevant to real-life. The next step was summer camps and after-school programs.

These extracurricular iSTAND programs will continue. The WWEST program will use our multitude of kid-friendly experiments to produce learning modules that align with the BC curriculum to assist teachers in bringing hands-on science activities into the classroom. We are also partnering with UBCO’s Indigenous Program Services and First Nation Bands across BC to assist university students to bring activities into their home communities. We will work with elders and cultural stewards to incorporate Indigenous ways of knowing and learning into the activities.

Are the programs focused only on youth?

Not at all. As a female scientist, I have always been a minority and this has led to some less than great experiences in my career. In part, the youth programs were not just about sharing the beauty and joy in science, it was about engaging more girls in science so future female scientists are not alone.

Being alone is not easy. So you build a protective shell, and loneliness hardens your shell. That is what the WWEST program works to change. Through actively partnering with like-minded organizations, we will expand our workshops and activities to build a network, so even when someone feels alone in an organization there is no loneliness. The aim is not to just increase the number of women and under-represented persons, it is to create positive cultures where participation is not an act of bravery. Rather, we aim to create a culture of inclusion for all people and perspectives.

How will you do this?

Using my training and experiences as a scientist, I will conduct research, share it and also apply it to WWEST programs. The focus of research and activities will be the positive elements that engage and keep women and under-represented persons in STEM. For example, we know family is important in encouraging and supporting career development so we developed intergenerational GRAND-STEM programs. Here we encourage parents and notably grandparents to participate with kids in STEM activities. This initiative is especially dear to me, as it aligns with my research passion and collaborative drive.

My research aims to support functional independence with increased age, and social engagement and learning for older adults are equally important for them. This initiative is also an example of the collaboration taking place on our campus. In 2019 the various groups at UBCO that engage in STEM outreach activities began working to develop a cohesive and comprehensive framework to engage with our community.

Overall WWEST will generate research and use this knowledge to create innovative programs to grow diverse and inclusive academic, industry and corporate environments.

The objective of increasing women in STEM careers is not new. How is your program different?

For decades the conversation has centred around removing barriers and obstacles, as well as developing policies and processes to support women in STEM. These were necessary and have evolved. For example, maternity leave and now parental leave have supported females in their career pursuits. This has assisted in retaining women in STEM but it hasn’t been enough.

We need to change the culture. I hope to go beyond the barriers and understand what are the good things that keep under-represented persons in STEM. Then apply these positive factors to build a rich and diverse landscape, and this positive culture includes men. We need to engage the majority to move the minority dial. There are many people who want to see more women and under-represented persons in STEM. This program will promote and celebrate the women, as well as the men who are contributing to positive change. WWEST is a comprehensive program to build a diverse and inclusive STEM landscape.

A pharmacist giving advice to a patient

New UBC research shows that Type 2 diabetes can be treated, and sometimes reversed, with a specialized diet managed by local pharmacists.

A change in diet is proving to be a key tool in the reversal of Type 2 diabetes.

A team of researchers from the University of British Columbia and England’s Teesside University have published a study showing that people can effectively control their Type 2 diabetes through diet and pharmacists are well-positioned to supervise the transition.

The research, published this week in Nature Communications, was part of a 12-week study involving a specialized diet that was managed by local pharmacists. Study participants, all living with Type 2 diabetes, were given a meal plan of low calorie, low carbohydrate, higher protein foods and they checked in regularly with their pharmacist who could monitor their medications.

“Type 2 diabetes can be treated, and sometimes reversed, with dietary interventions,” says study co-author Dr. Jonathan Little. “However, we needed a strategy to help people implement these interventions while keeping an eye on their medication changes.”

Pharmacists are generally more accessible than a family doctor, says Little, noting that people with Type 2 diabetes often make more visits a year to their pharmacist than their doctor. This is especially true in rural areas.

“Community pharmacists have expertise in medication management and can serve an important role in overall diabetes care,” says Dr. Little, an associate professor in UBC Okanagan’s School of Health and Exercise Sciences. “When Type 2 diabetes patients follow a very low-carbohydrate or low-calorie diet, there is a need to reduce or eliminate glucose-lowering medications. Community pharmacists are ideally positioned to safely and effectively deliver interventions targeted at reducing diabetes medications while promoting Type 2 diabetes remission.”

Half of the participants in the study followed the low-calorie, low-carbohydrate, higher-protein diet, checking regularly with their pharmacist. After 12 weeks, more than one-third of participants with Type 2 diabetes were off all diabetes medications, versus none in the control group. Dr. Little also says the first group also noted substantial improvements to their glucose control, average body weight, systolic blood pressure and overall health.

Co-investigator Dr. Alan Batterham, professor in the School of Health and Life Sciences at Teesside University, says the key was a targeted nutritional approach, supervised by a community pharmacist who can monitor prescribed medications.

“The intervention was effective in reducing the need for glucose-lowering medications for many in our study,” says Dr. Batterham. “This indicates that community pharmacists are a viable and innovative option for implementing short-term nutritional interventions for people with Type 2 diabetes, particularly when medication management is a safety concern.”

The research was a collaboration with Pharmasave, the not-for-profit Institute for Personalized Therapeutic Nutrition, Teesside University, along with UBC’s School of Health and Exercise Sciences, Life Sciences Institute and Centre for Health Evaluation and Outcome Sciences. Food products were provided in-kind to pharmacies by Ideal Protein. The study was partially funded by Mitacs with salary support provided to Dr. Little from the Canadian Institutes for Health Research and the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research.

Virtual ceremony celebrates social and technological innovation

It is award season, and not just in the entertainment industry.

Last Thursday at a special virtual ceremony, UBC Okanagan researchers were honoured for their innovative and groundbreaking work.

At the ceremony, Dr. Phil Barker, UBCO’s vice-principal and associate vice-president of research and innovation, announced the campus’s four researchers of the year. The awards recognize those who have made a significant contribution to research in the areas of natural sciences and engineering, social sciences and humanities, and health. A graduate student is also honoured annually at this event.

The research highlighted — from wireless technology to psychedelic-drug assisted therapy to diabetes research and tackling social inequalities — demonstrates the breadth of impact UBCO researchers are having locally, nationally and internationally, says Dr. Barker.

“This is one of my favourite times of the year, when I have the pleasure of acknowledging some of our star researchers and highlighting their contributions,” he says. “UBC’s Okanagan campus is one of the most rapidly expanding campuses in Canada and we continue to attract top-notch scholars and researchers.”

Natural Sciences and Engineering Researcher of the year: Dr. Julian Cheng

This year, Dr. Julian Cheng was named the natural sciences and engineering researcher of the year. Dr. Cheng is an expert in digital communications and signal processing.

He has many patents and has recently invented an indoor optical wireless location technique that improves receiver accuracy and will allow precise control of robot movement. His research also includes an intra-body communication device using wireless technology that will benefit health-care systems.

Health Research of the Year: Dr. Jonathan Little

When it comes to health research, Dr. Jonathan Little has been investigating improved treatments and possible prevention of Type 2 diabetes.

Much of his work revolves around the impact of healthy eating and exercise to stave off metabolic disease. He works with several partner organizations to improve the lives of people living with chronic illness and disease. Dr. Little also leads the Airborne Disease Transmission Research Cluster, a cross-campus research team that aims to lessen the airborne transmission of COVID-19 and other airborne illnesses.

Social Sciences and Humanities Research of the Year: Dr. Eric Li

Dr. Eric Li, the winner of the social sciences and humanities award, is an expert on social trends and a champion for the underdog.

His research focuses on interdisciplinary collaborations with non-profit organizations and local government to improve social inequities. His overreaching goal is to improve the lives of everyday people around the world. Through his community-based research, he has made an impact on food insecurity, poverty, urban densification and rural community building in our region.

Graduate Student Research of the Year: Michelle St. Pierre

Doctoral student Michelle St. Pierre has been honoured for her work in substance use and mental health, with a focus on cannabis and psychedelic use and harm reduction.

She has made significant research breakthroughs in how people cope with pain and pain sensitivity. As a founder of the UBC Okanagan chapter of Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy, St. Pierre has received international media attention for her research on cannabinoid-based analgesics and is a national expert on cannabis policy.

“The purpose of these awards is to highlight and honour the research excellence that makes UBC a top 40 global university,” adds Dr. Barker. “I am impressed with the calibre of all our researchers and am very proud of this year’s recipients. I look forward to their future successes.”

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca

New research has determined the global population for people living in high-altitude, like this village in Namche Bazaar, Nepal is more than 500 million. (photo courtesy of Alex Hansen)

New research has determined the global population for people living in high-altitude, like this village in Namche Bazaar, Nepal is more than 500 million. (photo courtesy of Alex Hansen)

Knowing how many people live and thrive at high altitude key for researchers

New findings detailing the world’s first-of-its-kind estimate of how many people live in high-altitude regions, will provide insight into future research of human physiology.

Dr. Joshua Tremblay, a postdoctoral fellow in UBC Okanagan's School of Health and Exercise Sciences, has released updated population estimates of how many people in the world live at a high altitude.

Historically the estimated number of people living at these elevations has varied widely. That’s partially, he explains, because the definition of “high altitude” does not have a fixed cut-off.

Using novel techniques, Dr. Tremblay’s publication in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences confirms there are about 81.6 million people who live 2,500 metres above sea level. From a physiological perspective, researchers typically use 2,500 metres as an altitude benchmark for their work.

Dr. Trembly says an important part of his study was presenting population data at 500-metre intervals. And while he says the 81 million is a staggering number, it is also important to note that by going to 1,500 metres that number jumps to more than 500 million.

“To understand the impact of life at high altitude on human physiology, adaption, health and disease, it is imperative to know how many people live at high altitude and where they live,” says Dr. Tremblay.

Dr. Joshua Tremblay conducts research at the Everest Pyramid Laboratory which is at an altitude of about 5,050 metres.

Dr. Joshua Tremblay conducts research at the Everest Pyramid Laboratory which is at an altitude of about 5,050 metres.

Earlier research relied on calculating percentages of inconsistent population data and specific country-level data that has been unavailable. To address this, Dr. Tremblay combined geo-referenced population and elevation data to create global and country-level estimates of humans living at high altitude.

"The majority of high-altitude research is based upon lowlanders from western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic countries who ascend to high altitude to conduct their research,” says Dr. Tremblay. “Yet, there are populations who have successfully lived at high altitudes for thousands of years and who are facing increasing pressures.”

Living at high altitude presents major stressors to human physiology, he explains. For example, low air pressure at high altitude makes it more difficult for oxygen to enter a person’s vascular systems.

“When low-landers travel to high altitudes our bodies develop inefficient physiological responses, which we know as altitude sickness,” he says. “However, the people we studied have acquired the ability to thrive at extremely high altitudes. Their experiences can inform the diagnosis and treatment of disease for all humans, while also helping us understand how to enhance the health and well-being of high-altitude populations.”

With only a fraction of the world’s high-altitude residents being studied, the understanding of the location and size of populations is a critical step towards understanding the differences arising from life at high altitude.

Dr. Tremblay notes it’s not just a case of understanding how these populations have survived for generations, but also how they thrive living in such extreme conditions. Especially as climate change continues to impact, not only the air they breathe, but every aspect of their daily lives.

“We tend to think of climate change as a problem for low-altitude, coastal populations, but melting snow, glaciers and extreme weather events limit water and agriculture resources,” he explains. “High-altitude residents are on the frontlines of climate change. We need to expand this vital research so we can understand the effects of climate change and unavoidable low levels of oxygen on high-altitude populations.”

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca

Virtual event brings the world of research to everyone’s living room

UBC Okanagan’s School of Nursing, in partnership with the University of Alberta and the International Institute for Qualitative Methodology (IIQM) will host the international Thinking Qualitatively Virtual Conference this summer.

The worldwide virtual summit will bring together some of the world’s brightest thinkers and prolific researchers. The conference will be entirely virtual for 2021 and will be organized around seven regions based on time zones, with world leaders in qualitative research leading each regional program. Established 20 years ago by the International Institute of Qualitative Methodology, the annual conference provides opportunities for researchers to present oral papers, share their knowledge and connect with others in similar fields.

But conference chair Karin Olson, who teaches in the UBCO’s Faculty of Health and Social Sciences, says the event is not just for scientists. In fact, she encourages the general public to tune in and be amazed by the wonders of thinking qualitatively.

Can you explain the term “thinking qualitatively?”

Thinking Qualitatively is the name of the summer school run for the past 20 years by IIQM at the University of Alberta. It has historically been a series of workshops intended to build capacity in qualitative research methods. This year, it is combined with the Qualitative Methods conference normally offered annually by IIQM. As a result, both oral presentations and poster presentations are welcome this year.

What is qualitative research?

Qualitative research typically uses data from sources such as interviews, observations, reports, organization charts, minutes of meetings, video, photographs, audio and social media rather than numerical data. It addresses questions about how, why, when and to whom things happen. Often qualitative research is conducted when there is limited information about a phenomenon.

Why would members of the public tune in?

Thinking Qualitatively provides an opportunity for people who have not formally studied qualitative research during their university years to build up the skills needed to do quantitative studies. Much like a TedEX event, it also provides opportunities for registrants to hear directly from world leaders in the field through keynotes and workshops.

How has going virtual benefited this year’s Thinking Qualitatively Conference?

One of the major barriers for many of our interested scholars in the past was travel costs and getting visas. It’s been particularly heartbreaking because people have worked for years to try to come to one of these and not been able to get a visa on time. Now, finally, we can have people participate from around the world in a much more affordable and accessible way.

Organizers have also managed to put an unprecedented slate of software training opportunities together on July 9, with four different qualitative software companies instructing on their platforms.

Is there a particular highlight at this year’s conference?

The international committees did an exceptional job lining up some of the biggest names in qualitative research methods, including:

July 5: David Morgan in the morning, Luca Berardi in the afternoon in North America, Maria Cecília Minayo in Latin America

July 6: Marit Kirkevold in Scandinavia and Cecilia Vindrola-Padros in UK and Ireland

July 7: Hadass Goldblatt in Africa and the Middle East, Giampietro Gobo in Continental Europe

July 8: Victoria Palmer, in the morning and Anna Cohen Miller in Australia, New Zealand and Asia that afternoon.

In addition, workshop instructors include a slate of training opportunities. There are workshops daily during the conference and on July 9 there is a showcase of different qualitative research software training opportunities, including ATLAS.ti, Quirkos, DeDoose and NVivo, with others queuing up to take part.

How do people register? And is there a cost?

In keeping with the aim of making TQ2021 more accessible and affordable, prices are based on the World Bank country classifications by income level: Fees will be based on a participant’s primary passport country. All prices are in Canadian dollars.

For more information, to register and to submit an abstract visit: tq-2021.ok.ubc.ca

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca

A UBC professor says the WHO exercise guidelines for people with disabilities miss the mark because they are not based on people who exercise mainly with their arms.

A UBC professor says the WHO exercise guidelines for people with disabilities miss the mark because they are not based on people who exercise mainly with their arms.

Physical activity guidelines for people living with disabilities miss the mark

A UBC researcher is calling out the World Health Organization’s newly introduced activity and sedentary guidelines for people living with disabilities.

Kathleen Martin Ginis is director of the Centre for Chronic Disease Prevention and Management and a professor with UBC’s Department of Medicine and UBC Okanagan’s School of Health and Exercise Sciences. She holds the Reichwald Family Chair in Preventive Medicine, is a researcher with the International Collaboration on Repair Discoveries and works to help people living with spinal cord injury maintain a physically active lifestyle.

Martin Ginis discusses the WHO’s recently-announced global guidelines and how they missed the mark.

Much of your research focuses on physical activity guidelines for people living with disabilities. Can you explain why getting exercise is so important for this population?

People with disabilities are at just as much risk for inactivity-related chronic diseases (heart disease, Type 2 diabetes) as the general population, if not more so. We also know that physical activity is important for mental health. However, people with disabilities do far less activity than the general population because of the countless barriers to activity that they face in their daily lives.

You have recently written an article for the Human Kinetics Journal, questioning the World Health Organization’s new physical activity and sedentary behaviour guidelines for people living with disabilities. What did they get wrong?

I’ve got several concerns with these guidelines. My biggest is that the guidelines are based on scientific evidence derived from studies of people without disabilities. Admittedly, there are still relatively few good studies that have measured the role of physical activity in preventing chronic diseases and improving the health of people with diseases. But in the absence of those types of studies, the WHO decided to simply extrapolate the research evidence for the general population and apply it to people with disabilities.

The upshot is that the guidelines for people with disabilities are now exactly the same as for the general population—150 to 300 minutes each week of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity and strength-training twice per week. One problem with this is that people with certain types of physical impairments do not have the same physiological response to exercise as the general population. We don’t know if they will get the same benefits from the recommended guidelines as the general population.

Also, none of the guideline evidence is based on people who do their exercise with their arms (e.g., to push a wheelchair or use an arm-cycle). No studies have looked at the long-term effects of 150 to 300 minutes a week of arm exercise so we don’t know the benefits or the risks. Even for people with disabilities who would be expected to have the same physiological response to exercise as the general population (e.g., people with visual or cognitive impairments), we cannot simply assume that that amount of physical activity will mitigate the many other risks to well-being that people with disabilities constantly face, such as poverty, lack of access to health care and social isolation.

Your paper talks about the tremendous societal barriers to participation. Can you explain what some of these barriers might be?

There are so many! People with disabilities are often turned away from fitness centres and recreation facilities not just because those spaces are physically inaccessible, but because the people who work there have misconceptions or a complete lack of knowledge about how to support a person with a disability in a physical activity setting.

A lack of transportation is also a huge barrier—one of the most common. People with disabilities are mostly excluded from public health campaigns and advertisements promoting physical activity. There’s the old adage ‘’if you can see it, you can be it.” Unfortunately, people with disabilities don’t see themselves represented in physical activity settings as often as they should.

If people living with disabilities decide these guidelines are unrealistic and unachievable, do you think they will simply stop trying to be active?

Yes. That’s my concern. The studies that we do have on physical activity for people with disabilities suggest that they can achieve significant health and fitness benefits by doing much less than 150 minutes a week. For instance, people living with spinal cord injury can improve their cardiometabolic health by doing 90 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity exercise each week.

Given the plethora of barriers to physical activity experienced by people with disabilities, and evidence of significant benefits from lower doses of physical activity, it does not make sense for the WHO to promote the general population’s guideline as being an appropriate guideline for people with disabilities. I understand the WHO had good intentions to be inclusive with this guideline, but my concern is that the guideline will actually put people off, and further exclude people with disabilities from physical activity.

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca

The newly-created MOTIVATE-T2D team will connect people living with Type 2 diabetes with health specialists through wearable technology and online exercise coaching.

The newly-created MOTIVATE-T2D team will connect people living with Type 2 diabetes with health specialists through wearable technology and online exercise coaching.

Funding connects UBCO and British researchers to develop novel technology

A UBC Okanagan professor is the Canadian lead for a 13-person team that recently won an internationally-competitive one million dollar award to accelerate diabetes research.

Dr. Ali McManus, professor in the School of Health and Exercise Sciences, says both British and Canadian researchers possess impressive records in diabetes research. In 2019, the Canadian Institutes for Health Research, in partnership with the UK Medical Research Council, launched a novel funding opportunity to unite each countries’ efforts to improve the lives of people with Type 2 diabetes.

Diabetes is a chronic medical condition in which sugar, or glucose, levels build up in a person’s bloodstream, says Dr. McManus. By 2022, 2.16 million new cases of diabetes are expected in Canada, resulting in a predicted $15.36 billion in health-care costs related to managing the disease.

“Being physically active and exercising is critical for the management of Type 2 diabetes,” she adds. “Exercise helps people with diabetes control their blood sugar and reduce other serious health risks associated with the condition.”

Yet, she admits, it’s been proven that sticking with exercise is difficult for a lot of people. Research is needed to help create new ways that will help people exercise regularly. The unique fund, which will bring the team together, was developed to support world-leading collaborative research aimed at making exercise easier for people with Type 2 diabetes.

Building on their existing partnership, the cross-disciplinary team will conduct the MOTIVATE-T2D clinical trial based out of Kelowna, and Liverpool, United Kingdom. In MOTIVATE-T2D, participants will exercise at home while mobile technology is used to provide feedback to an exercise specialist. That person will counsel and personalize the exercise prescription to maximize health benefits.

Participants with Type 2 diabetes will be given cloud-connected heart rate monitors and receive individually-tailored feedback from an exercise specialist to help them start, and stick with, exercise over a one-year period. Given that the exercise is performed at home and the counselling delivered virtually, the team in Kelowna is recruiting participants from across Canada for this research study.

The development of the novel mobile technology counselling was created by a team of interdisciplinary experts, including behaviour change scientist Dr. Mary Jung, exercise physiologist and diabetes researcher Dr. Jonathan Little, endocrinologist and clinician-scientist Dr. Charlotte Jones and public health and clinical trialist Dr. Joel Singer.

The UK team is led by Dr. Matthew Cocks who will conduct the same study for people who live in Liverpool, and allow for comparisons between delivery and outcomes across each country.

“Now more than ever, we need to meet the needs of individuals living with Type 2 diabetes by helping them manage their condition from home. We are very excited that this evidence-based technology enables us to provide quality care from the comfort of people’s homes.”

McManus says the interdisciplinary team will work across disciplines and oceans with the shared pursuit of one strategic aim, to accelerate diabetes research and improve the lives of those living with diabetes in Canada and the UK.

To learn more about the trial, or to become a participant contact the MOTIVATE-T2D team at motivate.t2d@ubc.ca or visit the study website at: motivatet2d.com

Dr. Ali McManus, a professor in the School of Health and Exercise Sciences, is leading an international team of Type 2 diabetes researchers.

Dr. Ali McManus, a professor in the School of Health and Exercise Sciences, is leading an international team of Type 2 diabetes researchers.

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca

Members of the integrated knowledge translation guiding principles team at the consensus meeting in Vancouver, November 2019.

Members of the integrated knowledge translation guiding principles team at the consensus meeting in Vancouver, November 2019.

New principles aim to close the gap between spinal cord injury research and practice

For many scientists, seeing their discoveries make the leap from the lab into the hands of the public can be a major challenge.

With funders and research users continually pushing the importance of the translation of scientific evidence into practice, one UBC Okanagan researcher has developed new tools to help her colleagues make those connections.

The gap between discovery and the application of research is of particular concern for people living with spinal cord injury (SCI), says UBC Okanagan Associate Professor Dr. Heather Gainforth. Often people living with SCI—whose lives could be enhanced by research discoveries—feel their needs and voices are not reflected in the research process.

Although it is clear that knowledge translation is needed to narrow the gap, Gainforth argues that engaging research users as partners throughout the entire process is key to closing that gap.

Driven to respond to the SCI community’s calls for there to be “nothing about us, without us,” Gainforth engaged a North American team of SCI researchers, organizations, people with lived experience of SCI, health professionals and research funders to develop the first rigorously co-developed, consensus-based guidance to support meaningful SCI research partnerships.

“Meaningful engagement of the right research users at the right time throughout the SCI research process helps to ensure that research is relevant, useful and useable,” says Gainforth.

The multidisciplinary group systematically co-developed the set of integrated knowledge translation (IKT) principles that can be used by all partners—researchers, research users and funders of SCI research.

Using data regarding 125 principles of partnered research, the group systematically collected evidence from multiple sources, before meeting as a multidisciplinary expert panel to establish consensus, select the guiding principles and draft the guidance.

“The panel reached 100 per cent consensus on the principles and guidance document,” says Gainforth. “More importantly though, survey data showed that the principles and guidance document were perceived by potential end-users as clear, useful and appropriate.”

Gainforth explains that the co-production approach can help foster meaningful engagement in research, support quality research partnerships and close the gap between research and practice.

“The principles are a foundational tool. Partners who use the guiding principles—early and throughout the entire research process—have the potential to improve the relevance and impact of SCI research, mitigate tokenism and advance the science of partnership.”

“And, this is just the first step,” says Gainforth.

The multidisciplinary team is currently studying the use and impact of the new IKT Guiding Principles.

To learn more visit: ikt.ok.ubc.ca

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca