The COMPASS study

Compass logo.The COMPASS study is a nine-year study (started in 2012-13) about youth health behaviours funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and Health Canada. It is being conducted and lead by researchers at the University of Waterloo in collaboration with researchers at the University of Alberta, the University of British Columbia, and the University of Toronto.

  • participating students in grades 9-12 are surveyed once annually
  • COMPASS tracks any changes made to the school's health policies and programs over time
  • each year, participating schools receive a detailed feedback report which will include evidence-based recommendations for health policy and program improvement
  • COMPASS has support staff and resources available to schools to help then translate these recommendations into action

This is the first time in Canada and the world that a survey will allow us to:

  • see changes in youth health behaviours over time
  • determine whether changes to school health policies and programs are effective and
  • work directly with schools to implement change

The annual COMPASS survey has four components.

1) COMPASS student questionnaire

This 40-minute classroom questionnaire asks participating students questions about:

  • their height and weight
  • daily physical activity
  • daily sedentary activity
  • eating behaviours
  • experience with tobacco
  • alcohol and marijuana use
  • feelings of connectedness to their school
  • academic achievement
  • bullying
  • mental health 
  • opioid use

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2) COMPASS School Policies and Practices (SPP) questionnaire

This short questionnaire is completed by a school staff member or school administrator who is most familiar with the school's health related policies and programs. It asks questions about:

  • recent changes to school policies, practices, or resources that relate to student health
  • school policies, programs, and resources that:
    • promote physical activity and healthy eating
    • address tobacco, alcohol, and marijuana use

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3) Observations of the school's facilities and built environment

On the survey date, COMPASS staff will be present to record observations about the school's indoor and outdoor facilities such as sports fields, gyms, cafeterias, and vending machines. Later, COMPASS staff will use specialized computer software to determine characteristics of the built environment that immediately surrounds the school, such as the existence of fast-food outlets, public sports arenas, and convenience stores. This will help us understand whether, or to what extent, aspects of the physical environment are related to youth health. For example, is the density of public parks and recreational arenas surrounding a school related to the weekly amount of vigorous or moderate physical activity that youth report?

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4) School Health Profile (SHP)

After a school and its students complete the questionnaires and observations of the school are complete, the COMPASS team will use the data to create a tailored 16-page School Health Profile for the school. This report will provide clear, concise details about:

  • the prevalence of specific health behaviours of the students (e.g., smoking rates, daily physical activity) and how these compare to national benchmarks
  • if necessary, how the school can take action to implement interventions and/or to improve existing programs, policies, and resources

COMPASS provides schools the opportunity to monitor the health of students over time, and it guides action so that schools can provide the healthiest environments possible for youth.

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