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CRICH adapts WHO tool to determine the health of neighbourhoods for Toronto

Toronto, November 4, 2013

By Leslie Shepherd

Kelly Murphy, in the heart of Toronto.
Kelly Murphy, in the heart of Toronto.

The Centre for Research on Inner City Health has adapted a World Health Organization tool for measuring urban health that is helping the City of Toronto identify its new priority neighbourhoods.

The Urban Health Equity Assessment and Response Tool, or Urban HEART, was developed to identify and reduce health inequities in cities. It was designed for rapidly urbanizing areas and mega-cities in low- and middle-income countries, where healthy resources like clean water, basic education and immunizations aren`t available in every neighbourhood.

Kelly Murphy, the manager for knowledge translation at CRICH, is working with the city, the United Way and the Toronto Central LHIN to adapt the tool for use in North America for the first time. CRICH director Dr. Pat O’Campo helped draft the original WHO tool and Murphy wrote the user manual for it, based on experiences in 13 pilot cities.

“Urban HEART is a quick way to take the pulse of a city and diagnose problems,” Murphy said. “But we needed to make it relevant for a healthy Toronto and to measure what matters here.”

The team conducted a year-long consultation with researchers, policy experts and community groups to revise the tool. It looks at six things:

  • Physical environment and infrastructure of a neighbourhood (such as proximity to healthy food)
  • Economic opportunities (such as unemployment rates)
  • Governance and civic engagement
  • Social and human development (such as graduation rates)
  • General population health
  • Disease-specific concerns (such as mental health and diabetes).

Urban Heart uses a “red,” “yellow,” or “green” report card format to show if a neighbourhood is faring well or facing problems that need to be addressed.

CRICH researchers are analyzing the data now and colour-coding all 140 neighbourhoods in Toronto.

Toronto is about to begin identifying “priority neighbourhoods” for the first time since 2005. Community consultations are scheduled to begin this fall.

“Around the world, cities are very divided places, when it comes to wealth and health,” Murphy said. “Toronto is no exception, but the things that divide us aren`t the same as what divides Manila or Mexico City. We`re making this internationally recognized tool helpful for tackling health inequality here at home. It`s good knowledge translation.”

More information on Urban Heart

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