Our Research

The EMERGE Lab engages in highly collaborative and interdisciplinary research to better understand how various social and economic determinant impact our individual and collective health. Our work involves rigorous epidemiological methods and is conducted through a social and health equity lens.

Income Inequality and Maternal and Child Mental Health in Calgary

Funded by: M.S.I. Foundation

Image by Ivan Aleksic

Mental illness presents a substantial economic and public health burden in Canada, with 1 in 5 Canadian experiencing a mental illness  throughout their lifetime. Income inequality, which has been rising both domestically and globally over the past decades, is suspected to be associated with adverse mental health outcomes, such as anxiety and depression.


This study uses data from the All Our Families (AOF) longitudinal cohort to investigate the association between neighbourhood-level income inequality and mental health over time among mothers and their young children in Calgary, Alberta. The three primary objectives of this study are:

  • Identifying the relationships between income inequality and maternal and child mental health  outcomes over time;

  • Forecasting and analyzing the impacts that interventions intended to lower income inequality (e.g., minimum wage increase) have on disparities in mental health outcomes using agent-based modelling techniques ; and

  • Investigating potential mechanisms through which income inequality affects mental health 

Mother with her Child

Income Inequality within Schools and Mental Health among Canada’s Youth

Funded By: Women and Children’s Health Research Institute (WCHRI)


Previous research has demonstrated that income inequality within a given environment is a risk factor for adverse mental health outcomes, especially among women and girls. Despite the rising levels of global, national, and local income inequality, relatively little work has been done investigating the relationship between income inequality and mental health within the school environment. The gap is especially pertinent when considering adolescent health, as they spend the majority of their waking hours within schools.


This studies explores the relationships and mechanisms of school-level income inequality with depression and anxiety among adolescents. Data from the nine-year Cohort on Obesity, Marijuana use, Physical activity, Alcohol use, Smoking, and Sedentary behaviour (COMPASS) study provides a rich sample of over 65,000 students attending 120 secondary schools in Alberta, Ontario, Quebec, and British Columbia. The specific goals of this study include:

  • Examining the association of school-level income inequality with depression and anxiety among adolescents over time and determining if this association differs across boys and girls;

  • Identifying the mechanisms involved in which income inequality leads to adverse mental health outcomes among teens; and

  • Investigating the effect of interventions that potentially change the income inequality within schools on mental health outcomes

The Impact of Austerity on Health: Identifying What Gets Cut and Who Gets Hit the Hardest

Funded by: Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR)

Business Meeting

Public health aims to promote community health and well-being through a wide range of policies, programs, and initiatives. Unfortunately, governments tend to divest in public health during times of austerity. This divestment could result in disastrous consequences for population health and health disparities. However, the evidence on the health impacts of public health spending is limited. 

The current study aims to address this gap by considering the current climate of austerity in Ontario. The overall goal of this study is to establish an open access data system and measures for tracking public health expenditures, governance, and delivery over time in Ontario and to determine the potential for examining the relationship between public health financing and population and health inequities. Specific aims include:

  • Establishing an open access exposure measurement dataset to systematically record public health expenditures and program delivery in Ontario at the Public Health Unit-level;

  • Qualitatively exploring the impact of public health divestment on the delivery of public health services at the Public Health Unit-level ; and

  • Examining the impacts of public health divestments in Ontario on population health outcomes, such as smoking behaviour, and health equity

Inequality and Risk for Deaths of Despair

Funded by: CIHR- Institute of Human Development, Child and Youth Health

Life expectancy is a key indicator of the health of a population, as is reflective of a nation’s social and economic conditions. Despite previous increases in life expectancy among high income countries during the 20th and 21st centuries, recent trends indicate declining life expectancy in many of these countries. Researches have linked these trends to an increase in rates of Deaths of Despair, defined as deaths attributed to suicide, cirrhosis of the liver (due to excessive alcohol consumption), and fatal opioid-related overdoses. Preliminary evidence points to increasing societal inequality as a cause.

This study aims to determine if social economic indicators or inequality, such as income inequality and labour force participation, act as risk factors for Deaths of Despair among Canadians. Data for this study comes from large administrative population based datasets linked to patient data (mortality records, Emergency Department visits). We hope that our results will contribute to decision making and practice at the local, provincial, and national level, and can inform policy to reduce the risk of in Deaths of Despair in Canada.

Emergency Vehicles

Want to learn more about our ongoing and past research projects? Please contact us at emerge@ualberta.ca