March 9, 2023

UCalgary takes innovative approach to enhance health and well-being on campus and in community

2022 Institutional Sustainability Report explores contribution of campus community
Good Health and Well-being banner featuring a photo of two people talking

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted how crucial a safe and supportive environment is to both physical and mental health and well-being. The University of Calgary holds itself to the highest global standards of excellency by ensuring best practices, policies, procedures and academic courses to adequately prepare students to tackle society's most important issues.

Envisioning a community where individuals care for one another and learn and receive support as needed, UCalgary is embracing individuality to collectively realize potential. The wellness services the university offers, combined with its Campus Mental Health Strategy and many research initiatives, create a caring community by providing medical care and education on a wide spectrum of health concerns.

The United Nations’ Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs) are a collection of 17 interlinked objectives that define a more sustainable world. By supporting transdisciplinary collaboration, UCalgary — as a research institution — continues to discover new knowledge and is able to translate said discoveries into cross-cutting applications, resulting in positive societal impact and change within and external to the greater UCalgary community.

UCalgary strives for a systems-wide approach to integrate and empower individuals to promote positive healthy lifestyles, as well as study and work environments. The Good Health and Well-Being theme in UCalgary’s 2022 Institutional Sustainability Report takes a closer look at the impact that innovative research discoveries, community engagement initiatives, policies and plans have on promoting SDG 3: Good Health and Well-Being.

The work being conducted toward promoting health and wellness across campus is a key highlight of the University of Calgary 2022 Institutional Sustainability Report. The report focuses on six areas where the university is advancing, as they relate to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

As a research institution, UCalgary is committed to reporting on key programs, initiatives, research discoveries, policies and plans that support sustainable development. This drive for innovative research is why UCalgary has merged SDG 3: Good Health and Well-Being together with 4: Quality Education and 1: No Poverty, to focus on generating research that inspires new discoveries in health care and wellness.

Since 2020, UCalgary has published more than 5,800 health and well-being research publications. The university plans to increase that number by continuing to fund and champion new studies and initiatives that address good health and well-being, mentally, physically and spiritually

Women-centred health and research

Initiatives and events such as the inaugural Calgary Women’s Health Research Symposium held in April 2022 serve the purpose of energizing new research by encouraging authorities on health and wellness to discuss their findings among peers. The symposium focused on sharing ongoing research about the health of those who self-identify as women, in part to bridge the gender-based research gap which experts in female health say currently exists.

“For a long time, anybody that was pregnant was not ethically allowed to be a part of medical studies. This spilled over into anybody capable of becoming pregnant; that’s a wide range of female-identifying people,” says Renee Kokts-Porietis, BA’18, MSc’20, co-creator of My Normative a female-focused health tracking app. In co-creating the research platform and app, Kokts-Porietis and her business partner, Danika Kelly, BA’15, MSc’20, have been working in partnership with organizations and institutions like UCalgary to repair the rift present when it comes to female health data and research.

Kelly says while researchers may not intentionally alienate female participants in their studies, many are still hesitant to include women.

“We still largely measure female bodies the same as male bodies,” she says. “There’s a resistance (among researchers) to adapt to account for female physiology mainly because it’s ‘too complicated.’” She says many researchers choose not to adapt their methods because of the perception that it would be too complex and onerous a process to account for the impacts of variability in female hormones.

Kelly and Kokts-Porietis are currently sponsoring two studies that are recruiting participants for female-focused studies being conducted at the Doyle-Baker Lab at the Cumming School of Medicine, the first on user engagement in the My Normative app and the second on the app’s ability to identify hormone levels. The UCalgary alumnae expect their research will encourage further studies into women’s health and diversity in health care in other institutions, as it has at this university.

The My Normative team is also involved in the Canadian Space Agency Health Beyond: Connected Care Medical Module that aims to identify medical solutions to evolve health-care delivery beyond the Earth. The study also benefits remote, northern and Indigenous communities across Canada who often face struggles with accessing health care.

Equitable health-care learning

UCalgary’s commitment to diversity in research and health culminates in the Cumming School of Medicine’s Indigenous, Local and Global Health Office that aims to advance equity, anti-racism, inclusivity and decolonization in health care. The office’s 2021-2024 strategic plan is currently in effect with the goals to grow a culture that values human difference, engages community in decision-making, and creates more opportunities for health learning and research.

UCalgary is also committed to increasing Indigenous visibility in medical fields. In order to decolonize health care, a new Bachelor of Nursing degree was created in conjunction with Old Sun Community College. The degree marries Western health care with traditional medicine practised by the Siksika people, with the intent of increasing opportunities for Indigenous students in southern Alberta. UCalgary has also constructed an Indigenous hub at its Foothills campus designed for reconnecting with Indigenous culture.

Campus Mental Health Strategy

Created in 2015, UCalgary’s Campus Mental Health Strategy (CMHS) aims to support a flourishing, resilient and healthy campus community — a community where people are cared for and can seek support when needed, where mental health and well-being education and awareness can be shared and talked about, and one where everyone can realize their potential.

The strategy relies on students, faculty and staff across campus, including the Provost’s Office, Staff Wellness and Student Wellness Services, faculties, and student groups to ensure its success.

Using the guiding principles of being caring, collaborative, resilient, responsive and continuously improving, the strategy comes to life through various projects and initiatives across campus that build on the strategy’s vision:

Looking forward

With the new year well underway, UCalgary plans to continue advancing the Good Health and Well-Being goals in 2023. Current initiatives include the FoodRx program that looks to address food insecurity for those with Type 2 diabetes and is being researched in partnership with Alberta Blue Cross. UCalgary also has a mindfulness podcast focused on meditation and aims to provide accessible relaxation and stress-reduction strategies.

Read the full 2022 Institutional Sustainability Report.

For more information on how UCalgary is creating a more sustainable campus environment and emerging sustainability initiatives, visit UCalgary’s sustainability page.

About the Institutional Sustainability Strategy  

The University of Calgary’s Institutional Sustainability Strategy provides a road map for continuous improvement in our pursuit of excellence and leadership in sustainability. We aim to be a Canadian post-secondary education leader in sustainability in our academic and engagement programs, administrative and operational practices, and through supporting community and industry in their aims for leadership in sustainability. Learn more about UCalgary’s leadership in sustainability.