Understanding what makes people healthy, using innovative computer models
The rising costs of health care are causing alarm about the longer-term sustainability of Canada’s health-care system. Though smoking rates have fallen, obesity is rising. And governments face immediate pressures to fund new and often very expensive drugs and diagnostic imaging.
These tendencies combine to pose complex questions about where best to allocate health resources: for example, should we invest in more MRIs or in making our social and physical environment less “obesogenic”? There is a substantial volume of high-quality research in each of these many areas, but it is fragmented. Placing this evidence into a common framework enables the economic costs and health benefits of interventions across the full health spectrum—from risk factor reduction to treatment—to be properly evaluated.
Canada Research Chair in Population Health Modelling/Populomics Dr. Michael Wolfson’s research program focuses on building this framework. This has only become feasible with the dramatic increase in computing power that underlies not only the creation of very rich population health data sets and novel statistical methods for discovering important relationships, but also the computer-intensive simulation modelling that forms the core of the framework.
This innovative approach can be used to measure the interrelationships among a broad range of factors, such as the socio-economic gradient in health, trends in obesity, chronic conditions such as heart disease, the efficacy of various treatments, people’s ability to function in everyday life, premature mortality, and the economy. For health planning, this new toolkit of simulation models will provide a coherent, evidence-based foundation for wise choices about where best to invest resources to improve the health of Canadians.