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Toronto researchers adapt World Health Organization tool to measure the health and well-being of the city’s neighbourhoods

Toronto, February 26, 2014

By Leslie Shepherd

Dr. Pat O’Campo
Dr. Pat O’Campo

Researchers at St. Michael’s Hospital have adapted a World Health Organization tool for measuring the health and well-being of neighbourhoods for use in North America for the first time.

The City of Toronto will be among the first users of the Urban HEART @ Toronto tool this spring when it re-evaluates which areas are designated as “priority neighbourhoods.”

“Urban HEART is a quick way to take the pulse of a city,” said Dr. Pat O’Campo, director of the hospital’s Centre for Research on Inner City Health, who helped draft the original WHO tool. “It’s based on evidence collected from a wide variety of reliable and readily available data, so it’s an objective, user-friendly tool to identify health inequities and plan actions to reduce them.”

WHO developed the Urban Health Equity Assessment and Response Tool in 2010 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 such as clean water, basic education and immunizations aren`t available in every neighbourhood.

CRICH worked with the City of Toronto, the United Way, Toronto Public Health and the Toronto Central LHIN to adapt the tool for use in Toronto, the first time it has been tailored for use in North America or Europe. The team conducted a year-long consultation with 80 experts from more than 40 organizations — including community groups, academics, the private sector and government.

Urban HEART measures how well each of Toronto’s 140 neighbourhoods are doing in give main categories:

  • Economic opportunities (such as unemployment rates, percentage of residents consider low income or who receive social assistance)
  • Social and human development (such as education levels and high school graduation rates)
  • Governance and civic engagement
  • Physical environment and infrastructure (such as walkability and accessibility of such things as green space or healthy food)
  • Population health (such as premature death rates, mental health status, prevalence of diabetes and preventable hospitalizations for chronic disease).

A variety of indicators within those categories are presented using a “red,” “yellow,” or “green” dashboard format. Green indicates local conditions are positive; yellow and red point to conditions that need closer examination.

“A quick look at the dashboard tells us that every neighbourhood in Toronto has strengths and assets to build on, but there is also troubling inequity in our city,” said Dr. O’Campo, who is an epidemiologist. “Too many neighbourhoods are vulnerable and falling behind. In fact, almost half of all of Toronto’s neighbourhoods are experiencing yellow caution indicators across all domains. This doesn’t necessarily mean these neighbourhoods are at risk — but they are areas that are experiencing some issues of concern, and need a closer look to find out why.”

Dr. O’Campo said one of the benefits of using a tool developed by a United Nations agency is that Toronto will be able to draw on the experience of several dozen other cities using it around the world, and all of them will be using consistent methods.

About St. Michael's Hospital

St. Michael’s Hospital provides compassionate care to all who enter its doors. The hospital also provides outstanding medical education to future health care professionals in 27 academic disciplines. Critical care and trauma, heart disease, neurosurgery, diabetes, cancer care, care of the homeless and global health are among the hospital’s recognized areas of expertise. Through the Keenan Research Centre and the Li Ka Shing International Healthcare Education Centre, which make up the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, research and education at St. Michael's Hospital are recognized and make an impact around the world. Founded in 1892, the hospital is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto.

Media contacts

For more information, or to arrange an interview with Dr. O’Campo, contact:

Leslie Shepherd
Manager, Media Strategy
416-864-6094
shepherdl@smh.ca