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Annual Report

Exploring the links between our health and where we live

Fresh off a pioneering study that looked at the links between air pollution and dying in Canada, Dan Crouse is about to look at the health benefits of living in greener areas with better access and exposures to natural environments in this country.

The epidemiologist and research associate in the department of sociology on UNB’s Fredericton campus combines his expertise in health geography and environmental epidemiology to look at how the characteristics of the places people live influence their health.

He seeks to describe and understand environmental risks to public health, and disparities in health outcomes faced by local populations in New Brunswick, the Maritimes, Canada and the United States.

Studying urban, rural and remote regions of Canada

While working at Health Canada, he was part of an international team examining long-term exposure to air pollution and the risk of dying for Canadians.

The study followed over 2.5 million Canadians through a census-based dataset covering a 16-year period, 1991 to 2006. Conducted by researchers from Environment Canada, Statistics Canada, and other Canadian and American universities, the study was the largest of its kind and the first to show risk estimates associated with combined exposures to multiple pollutants in this country.

Ground-based air pollution monitors are only located in big cities, but global satellite-derived images allowed Dr. Crouse and his fellow researchers to provide pollution estimates for the entire country, including rural and remote locations.

“The results contribute to the body of evidence demonstrating that even with really low levels of air pollution like we find in Canada,” Dr. Crouse says, “we still find measurable, observable associations with mortality.”

After five years with Health Canada, he joined UNB in 2015. Dr. Crouse spent his first year getting acquainted with other health researchers and policy makers in New Brunswick and across the Maritimes, gaining a greater understanding of some of the most pressing health issues in the area. He is currently involved in a large study looking at associations between hospital volumes and surgical outcomes in the province.

Looking toward the future

The next step with the census dataset will be to examine the benefit of local exposures to natural environments on positive mental health and longevity among Canadians.

“Natural environments, including parks, forests, lakes and open water, are recognized as having the potential to mitigate the adverse effects on health associated with urban living, such as traffic congestion, and noise and air pollution,” says Dr. Crouse. “This idea makes sense intuitively, but it’s challenging to demonstrate measurable benefits to health with actual data, given that people move throughout the day and throughout their life.”