Information from public health survey could 'directly benefit you' say researchers

The Thunder Bay District Health Unit is launching a phone survey it hopes will shed more light on peoples' attitudes and behaviours around mental health, physical fitness, smoking, diet and immunization, and then help shape policy around those issues.

Thunder Bay District Health unit seeks clearer picture of health needs, gaps in northwestern Ontario

Erica Sawula, an epidemiologist with the Thunder Bay District Health Unit, is encouraging people to participate in a 15-minute phone survey which examines attitudes and behaviours around mental health, physical fitness, smoking, diet and immunization and could influence policy and programming on those issues. (Thunder Bay District Health Unit)

The Thunder Bay District Health Unit is launching a phone survey it hopes will shed more light on peoples' attitudes and behaviours around issues such as mental health, physical fitness, smoking, diet and immunization.

One of the key goals of the Rapid Risk Factor Surveillance System is to get a better sense of the health needs of people in small northwestern Ontario communities, such as Marathon, Terrace Bay or Greenstone, as compared to those in Thunder Bay, said Erica Sawula, an epidemiologist with the unit.

"So, the 'rapid' is because the survey is quick, 'risk factors' are things that contribute to health, and then the 'surveillance' piece is so we can know more about, and track our population's health over time."

Survey responses 'influence decision making'

Beginning in January, staff from the project, which is led by York University's Institute for Social Research, will randomly call 150 people each month for the next year. Participants will only have to complete the 15-minute survey once, and all responses remain anonymous and confidential, said Sawula.

"I know that phone surveys, you might be skeptical to answer, but we are really trying to promote you to complete this survey because this is a survey where your answers, and your participation, will directly benefit yourself and your community because the health unit will be using this information to influence our decision making," and local public health programming at a variety of levels.

For example, the survey will include questions about access to clinical services. "Are you able to access a health care provider when you want to? If you weren't, where did you go instead, and things like that," she said, adding they may also ask how easily people can access healthy, nutritious food.

Answers to those types of questions could be used by the Northwest Local Health Integration Network (NLHIN), social services agencies or other health care providers to shape programs and policies in the future.