top of page

Designing Supportive Environments for Chronic Disease Prevention

While the widely held belief of personal choice and responsibility remains a popular narrative in relation to population health and chronic disease prevention, it is glaringly evident that individual behaviours have limited impact when our broader social and structural environments are not conducive to good health and well-being.


We have structured (or restructured) our environments to be health-disrupting.


Our modern food environment, for example, is dominated by energy dense, nutrient poor and heavily processed convenience foods, that are contributing to a range of chronic diseases, including obesity, heart disease, and cancer. Our towns and cities have been designed to support motorized transportation, instead of human-powered movement through walking or cycling, creating a dependency on cars that impacts individual physical activity rates.


The built environment, i.e., the communities or buildings where people reside or spend time, has been the focus of intense study over recent years. Neighbourhoods where people live are known to impact health in a variety of ways. Of relevance to the health of populations is the impact of neighbourhood characteristics on physical activity and eating behaviours, as two key risk factors for chronic diseases. Other environments that might help or hinder the health of populations include workplaces, schools and recreational settings. 


When viewed through the lens of the determinants of health, a health-disrupting environment means that, as individuals, we are constantly pushing a boulder of health hazards up a ramp of social and structural determinants of health. It takes an enormous amount of cognitive effort to adopt and maintain healthy behaviours such as being active or eating healthy foods, when everything around us is modelling the opposite behaviours. In essence, healthy behaviours are abnormal behaviours within our modern environment, and unhealthy behaviours are the default.


Read our snapshot on this topic here.

Flagship Project Co-Leads


Dr. Sara Kirk

Faculty of Health

Dr. Catherine Mah

Faculty of Health

Flagship Project Community Lead:

Meaghan Sim 


Translating Research into Action


Dr. Sara Kirk speaks to The Coast about active transportation and road safety in an article titled "Halifax's road safety inaction is killing people."

January 26, 2023

Whiteboard Animation Videos:



On April 29, 2022, HPI Scholar Dr. Sarah Moore released the latest whiteboard animation video featured on the HPI Youtube channel. In 2021, researchers from Dalhousie University evaluated the BOKS program. The new video outlines the results of that evaluation, finding that the BOKS program makes a positive difference in children’s health. Check out the video here in french and english. 

Screen Shot 2022-05-08 at 2.31.04 PM.png



On March 9th 2022, HPI's Scientific Director Dr. Sara Kirk hosted a conversation with Mike Davis, Chief Executive Officer of Davis Pier Consulting titled “Closing the Gap between Research and Policy: Why is it a struggle to bring great academic research into the halls of government?” If you missed the date, click here to watch the presentation on how policy is made within government, why it follows the process that it does and what researchers can do to better ensure their work is used in policy decision-making. 

This presentation generated great interest, with 94 registrants coming from the academic, government and non-profit sectors in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. 

Screen Shot 2022-03-29 at 10.05.29 AM.png


Dr. Sara Kirk received SSHERC funding to run a national cycling count pilot alongside national cycling non-profit Velo Canada Bikes. Over 1000 volunteers from across the country are counting cycling demographic information between June 1-6 to show how many bikes are out there, who's riding them and where. Global News featured the campaign and you can follow progress on the real time tracker here.
June 2, 2021


HPI hosted a capacity building session with Dr. Janet Loebach titled "Leveraging Behavioural Mapping to Capture Children's Play Behaviour and Evaluate Outdoor Playspace Design." Hosted by Dr. Daniel Rainham with over 110 Canadian and international registrants, the event was a great success. To watch a recording of the presentation, click here. 

April 28, 2021.

Dr. Loebach's book can be purchased here.

Screen Shot 2021-04-29 at 12.14.54


Researchers in the Faculty of Health’s School of Health and Human Performance and Healthy Populations Institute have created the Summer of PLEY, named for their the “Physical Literacy in the Early Years” project. 

Check out the PLEY video here.

The PLEY project is featured in the 2020 Lawson Foundation Outdoor Play Strategy Final Report.

Loose Parts.jpg

HPI's Scientific Director leads UpLift, a provincial program to enable children and youth to thrive by boosting the environments in which they learn, grow and play. For more information on Uplift, click here.

We are happy to share three videos that showcase youth engagement from the perspectives of the Youth Engagement Coordinators that UpLift funding supports, adult champions in the schools we work in and the students we have engaged. Each video is three minutes long:


Catalyzing Youth Engagement in Health Promoting Schools 


Adult Champions in Youth Engagement (Colchester Junior High School)


Empowering Youth through Youth Engagement (West Northfield Elementary School)

Virtual Panel:

HPI, in collaboration with the MacEachen Institute and Dal Alumni Open Dialogue Series, hosted Inside/Out: How Covid-19 is shifting our sense of places and spaces and what this means in a post-pandemic world. It got 6.4k views on Facebook. Listen to the recording here 



The Climate is Right for

Accelerated Cycling in Canada but Political Leadership is Needed

By Sara Kirk, HPI Scientific Director

Feb 28, 2020

bottom of page