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About the Challenge

Unlocking data for better health

The Healthy Behaviour Data Challenge is a partnership between the Government of Canada, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and MaRS Discovery District. The Challenge encourages innovators to create and test new ways of sourcing and using data for public health surveillance.

Why is good data important for public health?

Public health surveillance is the ongoing and systematic collection, analysis and interpretation of health-related data. It plays an important role in ensuring that reliable and timely information is available to inform operational and strategic decision making throughout the health system.

For example, by monitoring trends in physical activity or nutrition, public health organizations are able to identify populations at highest risk of developing chronic diseases such as diabetes or obesity. This information can also inform the development of interventions to support those populations in altering their health trajectories.

Current approach to public health monitoring

Public health organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Public Health Agency of Canada, rely on multiple sources of information. Most commonly, data is obtained via:

  • Self-reported surveys
  • In-person or telephone interviews
  • Online questionnaires
  • Direct measurement
  • Administrative medical and hospital data
  • Mortality data

What are the issues with this approach?

Traditional surveillance methods can be impacted by a number of factors that affect the feasibility of data collection and the quality of information obtained. These include:

  • Declining participation/response rates
  • Recall bias
  • Rising data collection costs
  • Under reporting and/or over reporting
  • Issues associated with generalizing to the entire population
  • Delays between data collection, analysis and reporting
  • Changes in technologies used for personal communication

Why add additional data sources?

The use of data collected using new technologies, new methodologies, and/or from non-traditional data sources (such as wearable devices, mobile applications, and social media) provides an opportunity for public health organizations to:

  • Supplement existing data and overcome any limitations encountered through use of self-reported data collected through current methods
  • Increase the granularity, diversity and range of data for analysis
  • Decrease the delay between data collection and analysis through continuous sampling and near real-time reporting.
  • Enhance the ability to explore and address new areas of public health