Monday, 16 November 2009


In honour of Remembrance Day (Memorial Day), here is a link to clips of American soldiers being welcomed home by their dogs.

Being remembered, recognized -- surely a core concern when it comes to being healthy, being alive in any meaningful sense.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Kraft Dinner research highlighted by CIHR

A couple of posts ago, I mentioned that the latest annual report from CIHR features a research paper, written with Lynn McInytre and Krista Rondeau, which used Kraft Dinner to explore food-secure compared with food-insecure perspectives. Here's that excerpt.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Human ancestry: What does dentition have to do with it?

The latest issue of Science provides in-depth analysis and discussion of the fossilized remains of the oldest known human ancestor yet, dubbed Ardipithecus ramidus.

The full suite of scientific papers, plus additional features such as podcasts, is available for free to all those who register.

C. Owen Lovejoy's contribution, "Reexamining Human Origins in Light of Ardipithecus ramidus," puts a great deal of emphasis on the "large, projecting, interlocking, and honing" canines lacking in this ancestor as well as in modern-day humans. (By contrast, such canines are present in all other ape species, and are particularly pronounced in males.) This radical divergence in terms of dentition suggests, according to this expert, that cooperative social structures are fundamental for humankind. Put another way, while human societies still tend toward hierarchy, the size of someone's teeth is not "a big deal."

Perhaps that's why the Canadian government does not guarantee access to dental services as part of healthcare insurance?

Yet dentition aesthetics and overall oral health remain sentinels of social status.

It's just that we tend to prize 'nice teeth' over 'scary' ones...

Friday, 2 October 2009

Complex Systems and Non-Random Thoughts

I'm writing this blog entry while attending a conference on complexity in relation to questions about how to convert research findings into gains in human health -- what is sometimes called knowledge transfer, knowledge translation, or knowledge exchange. The main sponsor is the Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research, and the highlight for me has been hearing anthropologist Micheal Agar give the keynote address and 'talking shop' with him later in the day. It was so helpful (and fun) to discuss the work that I have been doing to bridge sociocultural anthropology with public health via animal-human connections.

Karen Thomas, media relations specialist for AHFMR, prompted me to attend -- thanks!

Karen also showed me the 2009-9 Canadian Institutes of Health Research 2008/9 annual report "Research with Impact," which highlights a study that was the focus of a media intervention last August. By comparing food-secure and food insecure perspectives on Kraft Dinner, my co-authors and I emphasized that governments need to redress and monitor food insecurity (see archives of this blog).

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

What does rescuing a dog from a sewage pond have to do with our health?

The Calgary Herald recently published a 'feel-good' story about a man who lost but ultimately became reunited with his two dogs -- both of whom have three legs -- against the backdrop of our world-famous Stampede.

One of the dogs ended up in a holding tank for sewage:

"In what a Calgary Fire Department official later called an 'unprecedented' operation, its aquatic rescue specialists, working with the hazardous materials team, executed a successful rescue of Harley from the smelly mess--a rescue that surely saved Harley's life."

As Bonnie Buntain and I have highlighted, such efforts may be important for human health, as well.

Part of the story here is how this particular incident, amplified through mass media, has served to convey a sense that Calgary is a good place to live. Such feelings correspond with health outcomes, independent of what individuals do (diet, exercise, etc.), extensive research has found.

In that light, veterinary practice with companion animals as well as animal-related municipal services may be more important than we yet realize for the health of human populations.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Taking pets aboard flights

Until recently, Air Canada would not allow pets on board its flights, but recently changed this policy. Canada's other major airline, WestJet, already allows some pets on board. Public health journalist Andre Picard criticized these policies in his Globe & Mail column, spurring spirited debate among readers -- 161 at the time of writing. Passionate replies have been posted from both sides of the issue.

This debate highlights the importance -- and the difficulty -- of stemming conflicts related to the presence of pets. In addition to positive (e.g., animal-human bonds) and negative (e.g., allergies) effects of pets on the health of particular individuals, there is a body of research suggesting that such conflicts may have an impact on public health more generally. Ann Toohey, who will begin a MSc in Population and Public Health in September, is currently taking the lead in reviewing this literature.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Congratulations to Prabh Lail and Adam Thomas!

Readers may recall the names of Prabh Lail and Adam Thomas, whose MSc theses I co-supervising (with Dr Jennifer Hatfield, in Adam's case, and with Gavin McCormack, in Prabh's case).

Both Prabh and Adam have been offered admission to medical school at the University of Calgary!

Prabh plans to begin her MD degree in 2009. She is conducting quantitative research on dog-walking in relation to physical activity in Calgary neighbhourhoods for her MSc degree requirements in Population and Public Health. This study builds on the EcoEUFORIA initiative, an economic evaluation of using urban form to increase activity.

Adam will complete one more year of his MSc in Population and Public Health before beginning the MD degree in 2010. He is conducting qualitative research in Tanzania on Maasai perceptions of animal health, with ha view to strengthening efforts to curb HIV/AIDS in this and other pastoralist populations.

Prabh currently holds a Queen Elizabeth II scholarship from the Province of Alberta, while Adam has just been awarded a Joseph Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Council of Canada (SSHRC).

I'm curious to see where each of them will take the MD credential.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Make Poverty Your Probem

Yesterday evening, I served as guest speaker for the annual general meeting of Brown Bagging for Calgary's Kids, whose slogan is "make it your problem." The problem in question is kids arriving at school without lunch -- usually due to poverty. Read more about how poverty affects families with children on their blog.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Global health education and research at UCalgary

The Bachelor of Health Sciences Global Health program has been honoured with an Alberta Internationalizing Teaching and Learning Practice Award of Distinction, and is the basis for a Campus Alberta International Learning Grant that will allow 19 students to participate in overseas research.

These students include Adam Thomas (BHSc Health and Society, 2008), who will be exploring whether integrating human with animal health outreach might assist in curbing HIV/AIDS. This research is for his MSc thesis in Population and Public Health.

Friday, 20 March 2009

Demonstrating the value of co-promoting animal and human health

Jakob Zinsstag will visit UCalgary during the first week of April and deliver a public lecture on Wednesday, 8 April 2009 at noon. Dr Zinsstag and his colleagues have undertaken impressive research and development initiatives to integrate animal health with human health services in low-income countries, such as Chad. After reading several of their publications, I'm looking forward to learning more.

Click here for details.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Animal-human connectons in relation to syndemic prevention

This month's issue of Social Science & Medicine features "Animal–human connections, “one health,” and the syndemic approach to prevention," which I wrote with UCalgary colleagues Bonnie Buntain, Jennifer Hatfield, and Benedikt Hallgrímsson. Accompanying this paper is a commentary by Merrill Singer, who developed the concept of syndemics.

We call for interdisciplinary research, and we lived up to that call ourselves in writing this paper. Bonnie is a veterinarian; Jennifer is a psychologist; Benedikt is a biological anthropology; while my PhD was also earned in anthropology, but with a sociocultural and qualitative orientation. It's actually quite uncommon for sociocultural anthropologists to collaborate with biological anthropologists, so the intra-disciplinary dimension of this particular paper is also significant. I'm pleased to report that the writing process was a smooth one, and I'd welcome the opportunity to co-author with each of these colleagues again.

The paper arose out of ongoing global health research, notably in Tanzania, and the challenges that we along with our students and partners have faced in articulating the importance for human health of attending to animal health and related environmental issues. Yet as we argue in the paper, animals are also crucially important for people's health in higher-income countries too, and sometimes in ways that are unexpected and little understood. To name but one example, perpetrators of interpersonal or domestic violence often harm and threaten to harm their victims' pets.

We lean heavily on the work of Jakob Zinsstag and colleagues, and next month, the Population Health Intervention Research Centre and the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Government and International Relations will host Dr Zinsstag at UCalgary.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Food: Today, tomorrow, together

Last week, I spoke at a conference that focused on food security in Alberta.

On the one hand, food security means things like sustainable agriculture and ecosystem health. And that, as reports, was that main preoccupation at this conference.

On the other hand, food insecurity means the inability to purchase safe and nutritious food that is personally satisfying for financial reasons, or worrying about losing this ability.

As one participant observed at our session, food insecurity is about relative poverty. What does poverty entail in Canada today? Join the ongoing discussion!

Monday, 26 January 2009

Don't forget the milk!

The Calgary Herald recently published our letter to editor, entitled "It wouldn't be Kraft Dinner without the milk," in which we underscore the seriousness of food insecurity as a public health problem.

I was especially gratified to see the Herald print this submission because despite the Herald did not pick up on our efforts to publicize the food insecurity situation back in August 2007.

The $20K donation from Telus reported in the original story will go towards public education, according to sources at the Calgary Food Bank.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Today, I received official notification that Social Science & Medicine will publish a paper entitled, "Animal-human connections, 'one health,' and the syndemic approach to prevention."

In this paper, my co-authors (Bonnie Buntain, Jennifer Hatfield, and Benedikt Hallgrímsson) and I expand on the conceptualization of syndemics to take into account interactions between health problems in animal and human populations.

We suggest the following definition:
two or more afflictions that interact synergistically within the context of specific physical and social environments, especially as a result of inequality within and between human populations, to produce excess disease burdens in a human population, an animal population, or multiple such populations.

One example is HIV/AIDS in conjunction with so-called bovine tuberculosis, which afflicts people and many other warm-blooded animals besides cows. Another is domestic or interpersonal violence, which often implicates a victim's pet.

And we argue for changes to educational and research funding policies...