New study may lead to better health for young people with disabilities

The following article was originally posted by Acadia University Communications.

Nearly one in three Nova Scotians 15 years of age and older experience at least one disability, and nearly one in five Nova Scotian children and youth experience functional difficulties of some kind. These young people consistently face more barriers to engaging in physical activity and have poorer health outcomes than their peers without disabilities.

A new study, funded by Research Nova Scotia and led by Dr. Emily Bremer of Acadia’s School of Kinesiology, will identify some of those barriers and provide insight into the health inequalities experienced by children and youth with disabilities.

Dr. Bremer, a Tier II Canada Research Chair in Healthy Inclusive Communities, has been awarded a New Health Investigator Grant worth $100,000. The grant will enable her to study the physical activity, physical literacy, and health of children and youth with disabilities enrolled in Acadia’s Sensory Motor Instructional Leadership Experience (S.M.I.L.E.) program. S.M.I.L.E. provides an opportunity for individuals with disabilities to develop their physical literacy in a fun and supportive environment.

“I am thankful to Research Nova Scotia for their significant investment in children and youth with disabilities by allowing us to comprehensively measure the impact of S.M.I.LE. on physical literacy, physical activity, and health outcomes over time,” says Dr. Bremer. “This study will help us to understand how best to intervene on the health and well-being of this often overlooked population.”


The project will track a group of children and youth with disabilities enrolled in the S.M.I.LE. program over a two-year period. “We will measure participants’ physical activity, physical literacy and health on multiple occasions through direct measures and caregiver-reported surveys,” Dr. Bremer says. “This will allow us to see the effect that participating in physical-literacy-based programming has on the physical literacy, physical activity, and health outcomes among this group. It will also allow us to determine how these outcomes are related over time.”

The research results will include data on key health indicators such as overweight/obesity, fitness, mental health status, and executive functioning.

“S.M.I.LE. has been a beacon of success and has had a huge impact on the lives of individuals with disabilities throughout its 40-year history,” she adds. “This funding will now allow us to quantify the extent of this impact through a comprehensive study of physical activity and health outcomes among participants. The results will have important implications not only for S.M.I.LE. but for children and youth with disabilities provincially and nationally.”

Besides enhancing future S.M.I.LE., programming, the research will improve the skills and experience of students and trainees in research methods, knowledge translation, and physical-activity advocacy for children and youth with disabilities.

Dr. Bremer’s research collaborators are Dr. Kelly Arbour-Nicitopoulos, University of Toronto; Dr. Roxanne Seaman, Acadia’s School of Kinesiology; and Dr. Mary Sweatman, Acadia’s Department of Community Development. The Canada Research Chairs program provides additional financial support.