FHS associate professor Meghan Winters has received the CIHR Trailblazer Award, recognizing her exceptional leadership, mentorship and innovative contributions in the field of population health.

FHS professor recognized with CIHR Trailblazer award for her work in creating healthier communities

October 29, 2020

Meghan Winters, an associate professor in the Faculty of Health Sciences (FHS), has received the prestigious Trailblazer Award in Population and Public Health Research from CIHR-IPPH, in recognition of her leadership, mentorship and innovative contributions in the field of population health. Over the last decade, she has built strategic long-term partnerships with stakeholders from diverse sectors, including health, transportation, and social planning. She has worked with municipalities across Canada to promote safe and healthy community design, influencing policies to improve infrastructure for active transportation.

In FHS, she leads the Cities, Health, and Active Transportation Research (CHATR) lab where her team works to understand how community design impacts how people get around and connect with each other, and the equity implications of policy and environmental changes in communities.

A large part of her research focuses on active transportation and its role in shaping healthier, more inclusive communities. Over her seven year public bike share research program in Vancouver, she found equity is a significant topic.

“While often micromobility programs are criticized on an equity front, as members are more likely to be young men, in fact when we look at usage we found that 10% of the members made 50% of the trips. Importantly, super-users were in fact the lower income members,” she notes. “This suggests that the program is supporting those with greater transportation needs and suggests that equity-oriented policy efforts may be effective.”

Winters is always looking for promising new data sources, including citizen science approaches. In 2016, she launched INTErventions, Research and Action in Cities Team (INTERACT), which focuses on evaluating the impacts of changes to Canadian cities on physical activity, social participation, and well-being.  Currently, Winters is working with data from the fitness app Strava. With over 42 million users, the app provides detailed information on where and when people cycle. Research is underway with what may be the first safety study to tap into this data.

“My hope is our team’s work on big data can enable a new approach to cycling surveillance,” she says. “The bigger goal within this work is to generate data and tools that are user-ready, to enable cities to have capacity to tap into big data for bicycling.”

In 2011, she received the Knowledge Translation Award from the National Collaborating Centre for Public Health for her doctoral work in creating a cycling route planner for the City of Vancouver, which formed the foundation for expanded “bike mapping” in the Lower Mainland. This foundational work has since been developed into Bike Score, a partnership with US-based company Walk Score to provide the public with a measure of how bikeable an area is based on infrastructure, topography, and amenities. Other big data projects she has led to advance research and practice on bicycling include OpenStreetMaps for infrastructure and BikeMaps.org for crowdsourced safety data.

She also leads the Child Active Transportation Safety and the Environment (CHASE) study, which focuses on school travel and safety.

In addition to her research strengths, Winters is an excellent teacher and mentor. She is committed to training graduate students with the interdisciplinary skillsets required to undertake population health intervention research. She has taught undergraduate courses with CityStudio, or the Surrey CityLab, creating opportunities for students to tackle real-word issues facing citybuilders. As a testament to her dedication, she has received both of the teaching and mentorship awards in FHS: the Graduate Teaching/Mentorship Excellence in 2017 and the Undergraduate Teaching Excellence Award in 2015.

She is also heavily involved within the SFU community. Earlier this year, she was awarded the SFU President’s Award for Leadership in Sustainability and was appointed to SFU Community-Engaged Research Initiative Advisory Board last year.

Winters aims to translate her research into real world solutions by focusing on ways that cities and their infrastructure can play a role in promoting healthy and safe transportation for people of all ages and abilities.

“In my opinion, trailblazing in population health is about truly responsive knowledge exchange.”