Gillian Ritcey, managing director of the Healthy Populations Institute at Dalhousie University. Photo: ContributedThe Halifax Examiner is providing all COVID-19 coverage for free. Please help us continue this coverage by subscribing.

A child stands in front of a big picture window, staring wistfully outside as giant spiky balls representing COVID-19 float around in the air.

The image is from an animated video, one of five being released Wednesday by Dalhousie University’s Healthy Populations Institute (HPI) as an accessible way for researchers to share their work with the public.

“For this video series, we really wanted to make it relevant to what’s happening in our community right now, which is the COVID-19 pandemic,” HPI’s managing director Gillian Ritcey explained in an interview.

Academics have been busy capturing the experiences of children, families, and communities as they live through the pandemic and its restrictions and challenges. At HPI, they wanted to share that information along with evidence-based coping strategies. They hit on the idea of creating short, family-friendly, easily digestible animated videos to share their research with the broader public.

“Research is meant for practical use and it’s not meant to live within the walls of academia. It’s meant to get into the hands of people and organizations that can make meaningful use of it,” Ritcey said. “We’re really excited at the Healthy Populations Institute to have a mandate of disseminating knowledge in interesting, meaningful ways so that people can actually change based on it.”

While acknowledging that public health restrictions are required to limit human-to-human transmission of the virus, Ritcey said those restrictions have resulted in many unintended consequences that have left people struggling to maintain healthy lifestyles and behaviours.

“That’s particularly important when people are faced with the social and structural determinants of health–income inequality, race, gender, access to outdoor space–that they don’t have a lot of control over,” Ritcey said.

“The video series is a really nice mix of things that people have control over, but also recognizing that there’s a lot of factors that people don’t have control over and as a whole, we need to address those inequalities so that everyone can meet their health potential in a pandemic and beyond.”

The video series is officially being launched during an Open Dialogue Live online event tonight called Healthy at Home. During that hour-long discussion, researchers from Dalhousie University’s Faculty of Health will provide insight into the emerging impacts of COVID-19 on our wellbeing. They’ll also discuss how families can thrive despite the challenges of being cooped up in our homes far more frequently in the face of restrictions.

Funded by HPI and the Faculty of Health, the whiteboard animation videos are designed to appeal to a wide audience. Each video is roughly two minutes in length, and each covers a topic related to staying healthy during the pandemic.

Video research subjects include: child physical activity during COVID-19 ; the relationships between sedentary behaviours and cardiovascular disease; virtual mental health options during the pandemic for children and youth; health disparities among Black Canadians; and developing resilience during the pandemic.

Dalhousie University professor and HPI scholar Sarah Moore created the new animated video series launched today. It’s intended to make research findings accessible to the public. Photo: Contributed

“We chose whiteboard animation because of its innovation as well as its accessibility. It really is an inclusive way of being able to involve your community with the research findings,” HPI scholar and Dalhousie University professor Sarah Moore said in an interview.

Moore created the video series in collaboration with other Dalhousie University HPI scholars. Her own research on the plummeting physical activity levels of Canadian children during the pandemic is featured in one of those videos.

She said they’re designed to present an important health-related issue, share the research that supports it, and offer evidence-based suggestions that help people move forward.

Moore said conferences, presentations, manuscripts, and other traditional ways researchers share their work don’t trickle down to the general public as quickly as an initiative like this. She hopes the videos serve to highlight the university’s commitment to working on health-related issues, with a specific focus on health inequities.

“What we’re hoping to do is to highlight some of the work that the community has been so closely involved with,” Moore said.

“They can really see what’s happening and what they’re contributing to and how we can all work together to preserve and promote health across the lifespan and as we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The videos will be publicly available for viewing Wednesday on HPI’s YouTube channel. Moore hopes to collaborate with researchers on other similar whiteboard animation videos in the coming months. Among HPI’s partners for the video series are the YMCAs across Nova Scotia. Representatives at those facilities will share the link with their clients, partners, and others who might be interested.

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Yvette d’Entremont is a bilingual (English/French) journalist and editor, covering the COVID-19 pandemic and health issues. Twitter @ydentremont

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