Sarah Carsley is a PhD candidate at the University of Toronto, Institute of Health Policy, Management, and Evaluation, Sick Kids Hospital. As part of her graduate research, she is working with Drs. Catherine Birken and Karen Tu on a study titled: Prevalence and health care utilization of severe obesity in children accessing primary health care in Ontario. Twitter: @sarahcarsley
How did you become interested in childhood obesity research?
I became interested in childhood obesity while working as a research manager and epidemiologist at Sick Kids Hospital for TARGet Kids!, a primary care based research network in Toronto. TARGet Kids! encompasses many issues in child health including growth, nutrition, and development; however, I found the work on obesity to be one of the most challenging. The complexity of obesity requires innovative research and multidisciplinary collaboration to better understand the potential causes and future interventions. Being able to contribute to the global research effort in obesity prevention was also a motivation to focus my research in this area.
What are your specific research interests?
Overall, my specific research interests are in prevention of obesity in early childhood and the associated health service utilization. Young children have always been a particular population of interest because each child should have the opportunity for healthy growth and developmental trajectories. Understanding those growth trajectories and how they affect health services may allow researchers to better inform potential interventions.
Can you describe your role on the research within Team ABC3?
As a PhD candidate, I will be working with the larger group to contribute to the overall objectives, as well as completing projects within my own dissertation. As a student working with Dr. Catherine Birken and Dr. Karen Tu, I will be using the Electronic Medical Record Administrative data Linked Database (EMRALD) in Ontario as one source of data to determine the prevalence of severe obesity and to link with administrative data in order to examine health service utilization in this population.
What do you hope to gain from participating with Team ABC3?
I feel incredibly lucky to be part of Team ABC3 because of the scientific support and resources I have access to. The researchers on this team have some of the best expertise in child obesity, and being able to bounce ideas, research methods, and learn from their previous work and experience is a privilege. As well, collaborating with other experts in other fields (nutrition, pediatrics, and endocrinology) will hopefully broaden my knowledge of other research areas, which illustrates the complexities of childhood obesity research.
To date, what has been your (1) biggest challenge and (2) biggest success in your research on childhood obesity?
I think the biggest challenge has been dealing with methodological issues associated with studying obesity. For example, using the best practices to measure common childhood obesity predictors such as diet and physical activity is not always feasible in a large study population. Measurement issues can attenuate or strengthen associations that may or may not exist. The biggest success in my research on childhood obesity has been my work with TARGet Kids!, where, as part of the scientific committee, we have tried to tackle some of these important measurement issues and research gaps.
What is one (or more!) thing your Team ABC3 colleagues would be surprised to learn about you?
My friends and family have labeled me a “Professional Sports Tourist” because I love traveling to places around the world to either play or watch sports. Some notable trips have been to the World Cup of Soccer in South Africa, the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, and most recently playing golf at St. Andrews Links in Scotland (host of the 2015 Open Championship).
Are there any final comments you’d like to make?
I’m very excited to be part of such a great team and am looking forward to seeing how all these important projects are realized.