Patty Wellborn

Email: patty-wellborn@news.ok.ubc.ca


 

seniors walking

UBC Okanagan health experts will explain how to embrace simple exercise and diet strategies to age well and prevent chronic diseases.

What: The Southern Medical Program presents MEDTalks: Health strategies to optimize aging and quality of life.
Who: UBC Clinical Instructor and Family Physician Dr. Janet Evans and UBC Professor Dr. Jonathan Little.
When: Wednesday, December 7, 7 to 8 pm.
Venue: UBC Clinical Academic Campus in Kelowna General Hospital, 2312 Pandosy Street. Virtual option also available.

As we grow older, changes in our body’s metabolism impact how we process the food we eat. Our metabolic health influences everything from exercise performance to weight fluctuations to the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.

Adopting a healthy lifestyle and diet can greatly impact metabolic health and increase vitality. However, with the overwhelming amount of information ready at the click of a mouse, the challenge is often determining what’s relevant and how to even get started.

Learn from UBC Okanagan health experts on how to embrace simple exercise and diet strategies into your daily life to age well and prevent chronic diseases.

Dr. Janet Evans is the Medical Director of CGB Medical and a family physician in Kelowna. She is also a Clinical Instructor with the UBC Faculty of Medicine and an Affiliate Clinician with the UBC Centre for Chronic Disease Prevention and Management. In her practice, she continuously looks for strategies to improve health, as well as prevent and reverse disease in her patients. In partnership with a registered nurse, her interdisciplinary team developed a primary-care-based dietary program to manage chronic diseases without medication. Together, they work with community partners to improve physical functioning and improve health span (how well one lives) versus life span (how long one lives).

Dr. Jonathan Little is a Professor with UBC Okanagan’s Faculty of Health and Social Development and an Investigator with the UBC Centre for Chronic Disease Prevention and Management. After pursuing his master’s degree at the University of Saskatchewan focused on sports nutrition, Dr. Little completed his doctorate at McMaster University focusing on muscle metabolic adaptations to exercise in healthy humans and individuals with Type 2 diabetes.

Dr. Little’s research at UBC Okanagan focuses on optimizing diet and exercise strategies to prevent, treat and reverse chronic disease with a focus on Type 2 diabetes.

MEDTalks is a health education lecture series exploring current and emerging trends in medicine. Hosted by the Southern Medical Program at UBC Okanagan, researchers and health professionals share their insights and expertise on how to enhance your overall health.

The event is free and open to the public with in-person and virtual options available.

To register, or find out more, visit: smp.med.ubc.ca/community-engagement/medtalks

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A photo of a health professional talking to a patient

A UBCO study explores how primary care physicians and allied health professionals can help people make dietary and lifestyle changes to improve their health to prevent chronic illnesses.

A staggering 70 per cent of Canadians report an unhealthy diet—a risk factor which is often closely associated with the development of chronic disease. Low-carbohydrate high-fat (LCHF) diets have shown to improve weight loss and cardiovascular health.  But for many people, it’s not often clear when or how to implement such a change. A new UBC Okanagan study explores how primary care physicians and allied health professionals can help patients adopt dietary and lifestyle interventions to improve their overall health. “LCHF diets restrict the body’s glucose to create a metabolic state called ketosis that focuses a body’s metabolism on fats as opposed to carbohydrates,” says Southern Medical Program student Alex Myshak-Davis and study lead author. In a family practice setting, study participants chose from four different intake options of carbohydrates, proteins and fats to select a ratio that best matched their personal health goals. “Hypertension is the most common chronic disease, followed by Type 2 diabetes, obesity, osteoarthritis and chronic kidney disease amongst the study group,” says Dr. Janet Evans, a Kelowna-based family physician and affiliate clinician with the Centre for Chronic Disease and Management (CCDPM) based at UBC Okanagan. Patients participated in educational sessions led by a registered nurse on a one-on-one basis or a small group. Follow-up support included a combination of in-person or telephone consultations and small group sessions. These were about 20 minutes long and included a review of progress, successes, struggles and strategies to help patients reach their goals. “Participants who followed an LCHF diet experienced weight loss and a body mass index (BMI) reduction,” says Myshak-Davis. “Those who participated in ongoing health education with the registered nurse saw a greater improvement in weight, BMI, blood pressure, diabetes control and kidney function.” Ultimately, the results demonstrate how health education and promotion delivered in a primary care setting can lead to improved health outcomes and quality of life for patients, adds Dr. Evans. Dr. Brodie Sakakibara, CCDPM investigator and Assistant Professor with the UBC Department of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy, was a key contributor to this study which was published recently in Family Practice. The post Diet and lifestyle education in a family practice clinic can benefit wellbeing appeared first on UBC Okanagan News.
A photo of graduating students throwing their hats

UBCO is hosting a unique fall graduation ceremony Thursday. Students who graduated in 2020 and 2021 will now have the opportunity to toss their caps in celebration like these students did in 2018.

They’re baaack!

This week UBC Okanagan’s campus will be filled with students, now alumni, who graduated and were celebrated with a virtual ceremony during the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic.

More than 600 are returning to campus to take part in a special ceremony on November 10. The event will recognize the accomplishments of those who didn’t have the chance to experience that iconic opportunity of crossing the stage to receive their degree at a live graduation.

This will be the first time UBC Okanagan has hosted a fall graduation ceremony and it’s a special event for those who graduated in 2020 and 2021, says UBCO Principal and Deputy Vice-Chancellor Dr. Lesley Cormack. Those graduates were surveyed and many indicated they were interested in coming back to campus for a make-up graduation ceremony.

“These are students who completed their studies during a particularly difficult and disconnected time,” Dr. Cormack says. “While UBC honoured our graduates during the height of the pandemic with virtual ceremonies, nothing can compare to the distinction of an in-person event, complete with student speakers and a gym full of proud family members.”

Each ceremony will be complete with speeches from students and special moments to recognize people who received honorary degrees during the pandemic.

Evangeline Saclamacis, who graduated with an applied sciences degree in 2021, is currently working with an international renewable power generation business in Vancouver. She says there are a lot of emotions flowing as she looks forward to returning to UBCO for the ceremony and connecting with former classmates.

“I’m excited to see how the campus has changed since I was last there, and also inspired to see how much I have changed since I first started as a student in 2016,” she says. “UBCO was a place that not only allowed me to grow as an individual, but also allowed me to connect with people with similar aspirations and goals. I’m really excited to return and walk the stage, closing the chapter on my bachelor’s degree.”

Aneesha Thouli, who graduated from UBC Okanagan’s Health and Exercise Sciences program in 2020, is now back at school and is currently a third-year medical student in the Southern Medical Program based at UBCO.

“While this ceremony will look different than any of us expected, I’m grateful we have the chance finally to celebrate,” she says. “I think having been alumni for a few years gives us a unique perspective on the ceremony overall and gives us an opportunity to celebrate our successes in a totally different way than previous classes.”

Three ceremonies will take place on November 10, the first starting at 8:30 am with School of Engineering graduates. Following that, graduates in the School of Education, Faculty of Management and Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science will cross the stage. The final ceremony takes place at 1:30 pm where graduates in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Faculty of Health and Social Development and the Faculty of Creative and Critical studies will be celebrated.

Rain Inaba graduated with an undergraduate degree in microbiology and remained at UBCO to begin his master’s in biochemistry and molecular biology. Inaba is excited to reconnect with the many friends he made while living in residences and says Thursday’s ceremony will allow his fellow graduates to relive past moments and finally celebrate with their families, friends and faculty members.

“With these ceremonies, alumni from all faculties are welcomed back to the campus we all called home for many years,” he says. “This is a day of deserved festivities and a moment of recognition for our graduates. Let us make the ceremonies loud and memorable for each of our classmates as they cross the stage.”

As they have already technically been conferred as UBCO graduates and are officially UBC alumni, these ceremonies will be slightly different from spring convocation. However, Dr. Cormack says every student, especially those who persevered with their studies online, should enjoy the moments of being celebrated at their own graduation ceremony.

“While different, these ceremonies will include many of the traditions of graduation to honour the profound achievements and celebrate the resiliency of these students,” Dr. Cormack says. “We’re proud to have these incredibly engaged alumni who are going out of their way to come back for their graduation. I’m looking forward to congratulating each and every one of them in person.”

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A photo of an elderly woman talking to a doctor using zoom

The MEDTalks health education speaker explores current and emerging trends in medicine, such as technologies that help provide more treatment approaches for health care professionals.

What: The Southern Medical Program presents MEDTalks: Innovations in Stroke Prevention and Management
Who: UBC Professor Dr. Janice Eng and UBC Assistant Professor Dr. Brodie Sakakibara
When: Tuesday, May 17, 7 to 8 pm
Venue: Reichwald Health Sciences Centre, 1088 Discovery Avenue, UBC Okanagan. Virtual option also available.

Globally, one in four adults will experience the effects of a stroke. And over the next 15 years, the number of Canadians living with the effects of stroke is anticipated to increase by 78 per cent.

Technology—such as the internet, computers, tablets and wearable sensors—is providing even more treatment approaches for health care professionals.

UBC Okanagan is hosting an evening with stroke recovery experts where participants can learn how technology is helping transform rehabilitation for patients and can help support their long-term recovery.

Dr. Janice Eng is a world leader in stroke recovery research—from neurophysiology to novel clinical interventions and treatment programs—and has implemented these programs globally. Dr. Eng is the Canada Research Chair Tier 1 in Neurological Rehabilitation, has been recognized for excellence in mentoring early-career faculty, and is a Fellow of the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences.

She is one of six UBC faculty recently honoured as a University Killam Professor. Recognized for her outstanding research and teaching career, it is the highest honour UBC can bestow on its faculty.

Dr. Brodie Sakakibara is an Assistant Professor with the UBC Department of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy and an investigator with the Centre for Chronic Disease Prevention and Management based at UBC Okanagan. Dr. Sakakibara’s primary research focuses on telehealth and self-management of behavioural risk factors to minimize morbidity and mortality associated with stroke and cardiovascular disease.

MEDTalks is a health education lecture series exploring current and emerging trends in medicine. Hosted by the Southern Medical Program at UBC Okanagan, researchers and health professionals share their insights and expertise on how to enhance your overall health.

The event is free and open to the public with in-person and virtual options available.

To register, or find out more, visit: smp.med.ubc.ca/community-engagement/medtalks

The post UBCO launches new health lecture series MEDTalks appeared first on UBC Okanagan News.

A grip and grin photo of UBC and government officials

UBC Faculty of Medicine and partners celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Southern Medical Program at UBC Okanagan together with Anne Kang, Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Training, Harwinder Sandhu, MLA for Vernon-Monashee, and Susan Brown, President and CEO of Interior Health.

Today, the Faculty of Medicine celebrated the 10th anniversary of the Southern Medical Program (SMP) at the University of British Columbia Okanagan (UBCO) campus in Kelowna.  Opened in 2011, the SMP has graduated more than 215 doctors, helping to improve health care for patients and families in B.C. It’s also one of four sites within UBC’s broader distributed medical education program, which is training the next generation of medical students and resident doctors around the province including in Victoria, Prince George and Vancouver-Fraser. Every year, the SMP welcomes 32 new medical students, of which up to 10 seats are designated for applicants with rural and remote backgrounds. At any given time, approximately 130 medical students and more than 90 resident doctors are training at hospitals, primary care and health care clinical settings across the Interior Health region. “UBC’s Southern Medical Program in Kelowna is one of four places around the province where UBC is training our province’s future doctors,” said Anne Kang, Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Training. “Regional education opportunities are important because we know students are more likely to stay and practice in the communities they study in. This is a remarkable outcome.” Since its inception in 2004, the province-wide distributed medical education program has remained a strategic partnership between UBC, the Government of BC, the health authorities, the local communities, the University of Northern British Columbia and the University of Victoria. Since then, medical school enrolment in B.C. has more than doubled with a growing number of graduates choosing to stay on and practice in B.C. where their education and training took place. Overall, more than 90 per cent of students who complete their undergraduate and postgraduate medical education training at UBC stay in B.C. to practice. “Eighteen years ago, UBC embarked on an ambitious plan to remap medical education to better serve the province,” said Dermot Kelleher, dean, faculty of medicine and vice-president of health, UBC. “Today, the university is a global leader in distributed medical education and together with our partners in the SMP, we’re training world-class doctors that are passionate about building a health-care system that is more equitable, diverse and inclusive for patients and communities.” In collaboration with Interior Health, close to 2,000 medical student and resident doctor rotations take place every year in hospitals, primary care settings and clinics helping to extend the delivery of health care. “Interior Health is proud to celebrate ten years of partnership and collaboration with UBC’s Southern Medical Program,” said Susan Brown, president and CEO, Interior Health. “It’s been a privilege to support medical students embarking on their health care careers, and we look forward to continuing to strengthen the medical community throughout the Interior, together.” The program also provides students from all four sites with community-based learning opportunities that prepares future health care professionals to provide high-quality, culturally-safe care, ultimately leading to improved health outcomes for the patients and communities they will serve. In addition to training future doctors, the SMP is a hub for world-leading medical research with a particular focus on the health needs of people living in the Interior. The program is home to the new Centre for Chronic Disease Prevention and Management, which is accelerating new treatments and preventions for chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and neurologic conditions. “UBC Okanagan has firmly established itself as a leading medical education and research-focused university serving the needs of the Interior,” said Dr. Lesley Cormack, deputy vice-chancellor and principal, UBC Okanagan. “We’re proud to be home to the SMP and delivering world-class medical education and research that is improving the lives of British Columbians.” UBC’s distributed medical program was one of the first of its kind in the world and is now one of the largest medical programs in North America. Each year, UBC accepts 288 first-year medical students and 362 first-year resident doctors, helping to grow B.C.’s health workforce and enhance quality of care for British Columbians. Learn more about how SMP students and alumni are weaving healthcare into the fabric of B.C. communities here.
A photo of Dr. Roger Wong talking with students

Dr. Roger Wong, Vice Dean of Education in UBC’s Faculty of Medicine, chats with current SMP students, with Minister Kang and MLA Sandhu.

The post UBC’s Southern Medical Program celebrates 10 years of graduating doctors in B.C.’s Interior appeared first on UBC Okanagan News.
Disabled young man training in the gym

UBCO researchers say more people living with disabilities need to be included in health research.

While the light shines on athletes participating in Beijing’s Paralympic Games this week, UBC researchers are asking why more people who live with disabilities are not included in basic health research.

Dr. Sarah Brears and Dr. Kathleen Martin Ginis say that while more than one billion people—15 per cent of the world’s population—live with some form of disability, they are notably absent from much of the scientific research that takes place.

“There is a serious disconnect,” says Dr. Martin Ginis, Director of the Centre for Chronic Disease Prevention and Management based at UBC Okanagan. “People living with disabilities are at greater risk for developing chronic diseases than the general population, and yet fewer than 0.3 per cent of nearly 27,000 peer reviewed research articles in major medical journals addressed the health of people living with a disability.”

She also says fewer than 0.001 per cent of the articles addressed physical activity, for people living with these disabilities or impairments.

For the general population, Dr. Martin Ginis says extensive high-quality evidence from observational studies and randomized controlled trials show that physical activity is associated with a lower risk of developing chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes and site-specific cancers.

Scientists from the United States Department of Health and Human Services and the World Health Organization reviewed research on nine common disabling conditions including osteoarthritis, intellectual disabilities, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, history of stroke, major clinical depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, schizophrenia and spinal cord injury.

Both entities found insufficient research to determine the relation between physical activity and the risk of developing chronic diseases for any people living with these conditions, says Dr. Martin Ginis.

“Disability is not merely the presence of a medical condition,” she adds. “Rather, disability occurs when impairments—whether they are physical, mental, sensory or intellectual—interact with personal and environmental barriers to impede a person’s ability to fully participate in society.”

For instance, a patient who has arthritis is not necessarily disabled. But if they have impaired physical mobility and need to use elevators instead of stairs, or can’t take a mobility scooter on public transit, their ability to work or move freely in their community is restricted and they would be considered disabled by the medical community. Dr. Martin Ginis says this is a further example of the people who should be included in health-related research.”

Dr. Brears, Regional Associate Dean, Interior of the Southern Medical Program, says the disconnect goes deeper than that. There are scientific practices that exclude people living with disabilities from participating in research on physical activity and chronic disease. For instance, impairments in walking, mental health and communication were a cause of exclusion in landmark clinical trials evaluating the efficacy of physical activity to reduce the risk factors for Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

“The exclusion of people living with disabilities in such studies must stop,” says Dr. Brears. “Quite simply, this violates the fundamental principle of justice in research ethics—no segment of the population should be denied the benefits of research, and this is a human rights issue.”

Without such data, she says evidence-based physical activity policies, programs and guidelines cannot be developed to address health differences and disparities experienced by these vulnerable populations.

The research, published this week in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, calls for coordinated efforts to collect population-level data on physical activity and chronic disease among people living with disabilities. There are currently no existing international methods to monitor and assess physical activity and chronic disease in people living with disabilities, unlike for the general population. In most national health surveillance systems, disability is either an exclusion criterion or is simply not measured.

“People living with disabilities urgently need advances in health science and practice,” adds Dr. Brears. “Addressing the lack of research on physical activity and chronic disease prevention in people living with disabilities has profound implications for developing evidence-informed best practices in health service delivery, decreasing health-care costs and enhancing the well­being of more than one billion adults and children worldwide.”

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A photo of a nurse giving an elbow bump to a young girl

UBC Okanagan researchers are teaming up with Interior Health clinicians to ensure children and young people with Type 1 diabetes in the region are getting the best patient care possible.

A new UBC Okanagan and Interior Health research collaboration is examining the quality of patient care for children and youth with Type 1 diabetes in the BC interior. Researchers with the Centre for Chronic Disease Prevention and Management (CCDPM) and Interior Health are undertaking an extensive review of patient outcomes and treatment plans for young people with diabetes, reported over a five-year timeframe. “Diabetes is one of the most common chronic conditions in children,” says Dr. Christine Voss, CCDPM investigator and assistant professor with UBC’s Department of Pediatrics. “Access and proximity to specialized care, adherence to treatment plans and individual circumstances all factor into successfully managing the disease long-term.” In BC, more than 2,200 young people live with diabetes, which equates to about two to three of every 1,000 children being affected by this life-threatening disease, says Dr. Voss. She also notes that patients with Type 1 diabetes must undergo ongoing insulin therapy, frequent and invasive testing and regular appointments with health-care teams. They also have an increased risk of developing other chronic conditions such as thyroid disease. Interior Health currently has seven Diabetes Education Centres with pediatric services situated across the region that support more than 350 young people with Type 1 diabetes. Researchers are studying numerous factors that may impact care including clinical treatment options, gender and age differences, socio-economic factors and other environmental influences. “The research will provide an in-depth picture of how clinical practice guidelines are applied across our health authority,” says Dr. Tom Warshawski, IH medical director for children and youth and the study’s co-principle investigator. “Our ultimate goal is to optimize health and quality of life for children and youth with diabetes.” The new study is a direct result of the CCDPM’s Clinical Research and Quality Improvement Incubator that supports opportunities for clinicians and allied health professionals to engage in research and quality improvement projects. “We are thrilled to work with IH clinicians and their research department on projects that will directly impact patient care,” adds Dr. Voss. “The new study also provided opportunities for medical and undergraduate students to collaborate on clinical research.” The clinical study is also partially funded by a new fellowship from the Colin & Lois Pritchard Foundation. The fellowship supports an undergraduate student while working on a clinical research project with a UBC Okanagan investigator and an Interior Health clinician.
A photo collage of individuals with disabilities

The COVID-19 Disability Survey captured perspectives from Canadians with different types of disabilities and their family members.

On Friday, December 3,  the United Nations observes the International Day of Persons with Disabilities in a global effort to increase awareness for the rights and wellbeing of persons with disabilities. Dr. Kathleen Martin Ginis, UBC Okanagan professor and director for the Centre of Chronic Disease Prevention and Management is currently leading the national COVID-19 Disability Survey in partnership with the Ontario-based Abilities Centre. The latest survey results confirm critical support is needed to prevent further hardships experienced by Canadians living with disabilities.

What are the major issues facing Canadians living with disabilities during COVID-19?

Mental health and social isolation are significant areas of concern. The majority of respondents, some 78 per cent reported the pandemic has negatively impacted their mental health. Among adults, 90 per cent had a worse mental health score than the general population average and 82 per cent reported greater social isolation. For children living with disabilities, almost all respondents, 98 per cent of them, had a worse mental health score compared to the population average.

What increased stressors or barriers are people facing?

About 50 per cent of respondents reported constant worries about finances, future plans, and friends and family. Other stressors included access to vaccines, fear of catching COVID-19, becoming seriously ill, transportation safety and hygiene as well as general anxiety over world issues. Since the start of the pandemic, 68 per cent have had their work hours reduced, been laid off or furloughed. As Canadians with disabilities are already at greater risk of unemployment, ongoing reductions in work among this group are deeply concerning.

How has the pandemic impacted healthy behaviours?

A large group of adults, almost 60 per cent, reported less physical activity and worse eating habits. Of those who smoke, use cannabis or drink alcohol, roughly half reported increased substance use. On a positive note, the proportion of adults meeting the World Health Organization’s adult physical activity guidelines has increased from the initial survey reporting from 19 to 32 per cent. Among children with disabilities, 63 per cent are less physically active and 47 per cent have worse eating habits than before the pandemic. The overall level of inactivity in this population is particularly troubling—56 per cent of children with disabilities do not meet the daily recommended 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous activity.

What can be done to better support Canadians living with disabilities?

There is an urgent need for government agencies and community organizations to develop and implement pandemic response strategies to support the needs of people of all abilities. Increased access to services that can improve mental health and reduce social isolation is crucial to prevent damaging health impacts. A significant boost in funding for emotional counselling, peer support, recreation and leisure programs, as well as attendant care services is required as the pandemic and public health restrictions continue. The COVID-19 Disability Survey reporting represents data from Canadians who identify as having a disability—such as a physical, cognitive or sensory disability—or having a child or family member living with a disability in their household. To learn more and read the full report, visit: abilitiescentre.org/our-impact/research-programs/disability-survey
an elderly person holding up a piece of wearable tech

UBCO researchers are using wearable technology to help track the involuntary movements of Parkinson’s patients.

Wearable health technologies are vastly popular with people wanting to improve their physical and mental health. Everything from exercise, sleep patterns, calories consumed and heart rhythms can be tracked by a wearable device. But timely and accurate data is also especially valuable for doctors treating patients with complicated health conditions using virtual care. A new study from the Southern Medical Program (SMP), based at UBC Okanagan, has examined the use of wearable health technology and telehealth to treat patients with Parkinson’s disease. Dr. Daryl Wile, a movement disorder specialist and SMP clinical assistant professor, routinely uses telehealth to connect with Parkinson’s patients across the vast and rugged landscape of BC’s Interior. “Even prior to the pandemic, telehealth helped deliver specialized care to patients living in remote and rural settings,” says Wile, a clinical investigator with the Centre for Chronic Disease Prevention and Management. “But with the complex nature of Parkinson’s, we wanted to enhance these appointments to better understand how movements vary throughout a patient’s entire day.” To add a new layer of health information, Wile and the research team added wearable technology to the equation. “We recruited Parkinson’s patients with either tremors or involuntary movements,” says Joshua Yoneda, SMP student and co-author of the study. “We then divided them into two groups — some using telehealth and device-based health tracking and others attending traditional face-to-face appointments.” The telehealth group wore wearable devices to track their movements, involuntary or not, throughout waking hours. The reported data was then reviewed during telehealth appointments to identify peak times patients experienced Parkinson’s symptoms. “With the integration of accurate and reliable data from wearable devices, we were able to tailor a patient’s medication to better manage their symptoms throughout the day,” adds Wile. As part of the study, patients were asked a series of questions from the standardized Parkinson Disease Quality of Life Index. Both study groups were assessed at intervals of six weeks, three months and six months. Overall, the patients using the wearable devices reported positive experiences and health outcomes in combination with telehealth appointments to access specialized care. “There’s definitely a strong case to leverage multiple technologies to improve a patient’s quality of life and limit the added stress and cost associated with travel,” says Yoneda. The study was recently published in Parkinsonism & Related Disorders.
UBCO Clinical Associate Professor Dr. Evelyn Cornelissen has a virtual conversation with students Rowan Laird and Jimmy Lopez.

UBCO Clinical Associate Professor Dr. Evelyn Cornelissen has a virtual conversation with students Rowan Laird and Jimmy Lopez.

Teaching children how to navigate health claims during COVID-19

Although bogus health claims have dogged humanity for centuries, a UBC Okanagan professor says COVID-19 has made the importance of navigating health claims more critical than ever. And there are plans to make BC’s elementary school students better health detectives, one class at a time.

Dr. Evelyn Cornelissen is a clinical associate professor with the Southern Medical Program (SMP) based at UBCO. As the global pandemic emerged last spring she became increasingly concerned with how health misinformation was impacting children.

“Internet connectivity and social media have fuelled the spread of health misinformation, while rotating lockdowns have increased uncertainty and reluctance to follow public health guidelines,” she says.

Cornelissen, a registered dietitian in Kelowna, enlisted the help of Rowan Laird, first-year SMP student and Jimmy Lopez, graduate research assistant with BC Children's Hospital’s Vaccine Evaluation Center, to create a virtual seminar to teach children how to evaluate and identify reputable sources of health information.

“Misinformation is so endemic these days,” says Laird, who took on the project as part of a UBC Faculty of Medicine’s flexible and enhanced learning course. “Our goal is to teach students how to navigate health information online, spot misinformation and think critically about health claims.”

The project team presented their one-hour seminar “So You Want to be a Health Detective?” to a Grade 5/6 split class at École Glenmore Elementary in Kelowna. Laird was keenly interested in learning how and why 10- to 12-year-olds access information on their own.

The interactive session presented tips about evaluating information sources and encouraging the students to think critically about the 5Ws (who, what when, where, and why) to help spot websites that lack current scientific data or might have ulterior motives.

Feedback from the class indicated students often turn to Google to research questions they are initially reluctant to ask a parent or teacher out of fear of embarrassment. The internet is seen as a trial run before discussing with someone they trust.

“At times, it can appear people who are spreading misinformation are given an equal platform to the actual health experts,” says École Glenmore Elementary teacher Elizabeth Archer. “It is important for students to grow up recognizing they have a responsibility to look more deeply into headlines and general claims — especially about their own bodies.”

Students were given a pop quiz before and after the seminar to assess attitudes towards misinformation, trustworthy sources and their confidence levels in assessing online information. They were also given a blind test to compare web pages from the BC Centre for Disease Control and a prominent anti-vaccination organization.

“Within five minutes of studying each webpage, they were able to quickly identify the trustworthy source,” adds Laird. “I was really impressed how quickly they applied their critical thinking skills to assess the credibility of the information.”

The successful pilot has pushed the team to explore opportunities to expand the seminar to more schools and grades across the province in the fall.

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca