Confidentiality, COMPASS questionnaires and frequently asked questions

Confidentiality

We are interested in the survey results as a group. That is, we use the pooled results of all students from a school because this will tell us whether the existing school policies and programs are effective, or whether school policies and programs need to be improved or created. We will not be analyzing and reporting survey results of individual students. The answers your child provides on the COMPASS survey will not be revealed to any outside parties.

The privacy of your child's survey responses is important to us. We have taken the following steps to ensure that the answers your child provides on our survey remain confidential:

  • no names are written on the surveys
  • each survey is identified by a self-generated alpha-numeric code, only for the purpose of comparing data over four years
  • students will seal their completed surveys in an envelope before submitting them to project staff
  • all student information will be kept separate from the survey responses
  • individual student responses will not be given to the school or other personnel
  • surveys will be stored at the University of Waterloo for seven years and only research staff will have access to the completed surveys; the surveys will be destroyed after seven years while the electronic data with no personal identifiers will be kept for an indefinite period of time

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COMPASS questionnaires

COMPASS collects data at three levels: (1) the student level, (2) the school level, through the administrator, and (3) the built environment, through observations of the school's facilities and surrounding structures.

1) Student questionnaire

All Ontario students in grades 9-12 from participating schools and who have parental consent will be asked to complete the COMPASS questionnaire.

  • it is completed during regular class time
  • takes approximately 30 minutes to complete

Core questions allow us to properly define basic health indicators such as:

  • obesity
  • fitness levels
  • eating behaviour
  • tobacco, drugs, and alcohol use

Correlate questions allow us to better understand the context of these behaviours among youth, by asking about:

  • how many of the student's friends are smokers
  • awareness of school policies about physical activity
  • academic achievement
  • school connectedness
  • other issues that may affect changes in the student's health and/or behaviours over time (e.g., bullying)

The COMPASS study will be conducted over four years. Students who complete the COMPASS student questionnaire in the 2012-13 school year are asked to complete it again in 2013-14, 2014-15, and 2015-16.

This will enable the COMPASS team to provide feedback to the school about their policies and programs that promote youth health, and to track changes in student health over time.

For a copy of the COMPASS student questionnaire please contact Chad Bredin, COMPASS project manager, at cbredin@uwaterloo.ca or at 1-800-667-1804, ext. 33317.

2) School policies and practices (SPP) questionnaire

The school administration completes this questionnaire, which asks questions regarding school policies, practices, and resources in the areas of physical activity, healthy eating, tobacco use, alcohol and other drug use, and bullying.

The school administrator will be asked to complete the SPP in each of the four years that the student questionnaire is administered; this will allow us to see whether any changes have been made to existing policies, programs, and resources since the previous COMPASS survey administration. For the first year of data collection the SPP requires more details and will take approximately 30 minutes to complete. For all three subsequent years, however, the SPP will be substantially shorter.

3) Observations of the built environment

On the day of survey administration, COMPASS staff, with permission from the school administration, will record observations about the school’s existing indoor and outdoor facilities related to healthy eating and physical activity. This includes bicycle racks, football/soccer fields, gymnasiums, cafeterias, vending machines, etc.

During data analysis 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, convenience stores, and public parks and sports arenas.

How results from the questionnaires will be used

Results from the student questionnaire and the SPP will be reported to the school in the form of a School Health Profile. This document will allow school administrators to see whether their school policies, practices, and resources, or any changes made to them, have resulted in improved health of the students. The School Health Profile also indicates areas of youth health that might have been overlooked during previous policy and program planning.

The School Health Profile will be the key to mobilizing positive action to make school environments even better.

The data we obtain about the built environment surrounding a school will be compared to student health data, to determine if any relationships exist. For example, is the density of convenience stores surrounding a school related to student obesity?

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Frequently asked questions

Why is this survey important? What difference will it make?

The major aim of the COMPASS project is to help provide the healthiest school environments possible for Ontario secondary school students. To accomplish this, COMPASS will:

  • measure a wide variety of youth health behaviours as students progress through high school, and
  • measure the school environment during this time.

This will allow us to see which particular school policies, programs, and resources actually result in healthier Ontario youth. This is the first time this has been done in the history of Ontario, Canada, and internationally.

Participating schools will receive their survey results in the form of a School Health Profile. This report will help identify potential health issues at the school and suggest ways to improve overall student health. To help schools take action, COMPASS will link schools with existing stakeholders in public health and work with them to provide students with the healthiest environment possible.

COMPASS results will help government and public health officials identify areas of concern and emerging trends in youth health. The end-goal is to develop new programs and policies that will make a positive difference.

Healthy kids tend to do better academically than less healthy kids. To that end, COMPASS aims to promote the long-term success of Ontario youth.

How can schools use the results?

The COMPASS project aims to inform schools about what policies, programs, and resources are effective in promoting healthy lifestyles for Ontario youth. The School Health Profile is meant to inform the school whether its existing programs and policies are supporting healthy students, and whether any changes to policies and programs translate into changes in student health.

Schools will be linked with existing public health stakeholders who can help the school transform information from the School Health Profile into action. We also encourage schools to be creative when making use of their School Health Profile. In addition to using the results as a teaching tool and to inform school policy, some examples of how schools can use the feedback include:

  • Using the data to create anti-tobacco campaigns.
  • Disseminating the results to various school clubs, such as "Party in the Right Spirit."
  • Principals, vice-principals, and teachers can talk to students about the impact of health behaviours.
  • Using results in health units/courses and at health fairs where displays are available to students and parents.
  • Sharing the results with school councils, parent councils, and superintendents.
  • Condensing the results into monthly school newsletters that are sent to families.
  • Sharing the results with the school's public health nurse and the school's health action team.

What kinds of questions does COMPASS ask? Are you allowed to ask these kinds of questions?

The COMPASS survey addresses physical activity, healthy eating, sedentary behaviour, tobacco use, alcohol use, marijuana use, school connectedness, and academic achievement.

The survey is available for viewing online and will also be available in your school's office.

The COMPASS team has completed an ethics review and has been granted full clearance through the Office of Research Ethics at the University of Waterloo. The Office of Research Ethics closely reviews the questions on the survey before they can be used. School boards and schools are also required to read and approve the questionnaire before agreeing to participate.

Students can skip any questions they prefer not to answer, or decline to participate at any time.

Is my child too young to be asked questions about smoking/alcohol/drugs?

Research tells us that youth in grades 7-12 already know about these topic areas.

The average age at which students smoke their first whole cigarette is 11 years old. In addition, adolescents are the most vulnerable population subset to start smoking, with 85% of current smokers starting by age 19. By grade 12, the majority of students are current users of alcohol, tobacco, or drugs. The good news is that informed students who can process ideas in a safe environment such as a classroom, are more likely to make healthy choices.

Tobacco and substance use/abuse are part of the school health curriculum from grade 7 on. We encourage teachers to incorporate the COMPASS experience into discussions on these topics, and to use the School Health Profile as a teaching tool. In addition, data from the COMPASS study will be used to create healthier school environments, which further protect youth from tobacco and other substances.

Will asking questions about these topics actually encourage certain behaviours?

No.

Surveillance surveys have been conducted for decades with the youth/adolescent population and many health professionals argue that the benefits of surveillance far outweigh any potential risks. Youth in grades 7 to 12 are already taught about smoking, alcohol and drugs in school as part of the education curriculum.

Scientists at the University of Waterloo have conducted pilot studies which have shown that in general, youth who have never smoked, tend to "jump" to each question, looking for the response option, "I do not smoke," without fully reading the question or other response options. The same is true for questions about alcohol and marijuana, thus limiting their exposure to the topics.

Will our school "get in trouble" if a lot of students are physically inactive, or use tobacco/alcohol/marijuana, or report other unhealthy behaviours?

No.

No school will ever get in trouble because of their participation in this survey.

The list of schools who participate in the COMPASS survey is confidential. The Office of Research Ethics does not permit us to release this list to anyone. Participating schools will receive a tailored School Health Profile showing their survey results, but this information will not be released to anyone else unless the school itself wishes to share it with third parties.

Similarly, for students who complete the COMPASS survey, their responses are completely confidential. Individual surveys are identified by an alpha-numeric code only and results are analysed as a group.

Your school would actually benefit from having us work with you to decrease the number of students who are physically inactive, who use tobacco and/or other substances, or who report other unhealthy behaviours.

Why do you ask about ethnicity?

One task of a survey is to provide a clear picture of the behaviours under study, in this case health behaviours. Different groups of people (e.g., males, females) may be less active or be more overweight, for example, or require different types of interventions to promote their health. We ask students to indicate their ethnic background to help inform the development of new culturally appropriate prevention interventions. This information can help schools and governments develop programs to more equitably improve the health of all students.

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