Funding Optimization Project

NB Data Repository Reveals Impact of Program for New Parents

NB Data Repository Reveals Impact of Program for New Parents

Researcher: Dr. Sandra Magalhaes
Affiliation: UNB’s New Brunswick Institute for Research, Data and Training (NB-IRDT).

New Brunswick has long been known as a province rich in natural resources, but it also leads Canada in another precious resource—public data. Through a Partners Matching grant from ResearchNB, Dr. Sandra Magalhaes has used some of that data to evaluate the impact of a home-visiting program for vulnerable first-time parents.

In partnership with the Department of Health, Dr. Magalhaes was able to examine the effects of the Healthy Families, Healthy Babies (HFHB) program on breastfeeding. She found that the postnatal phase of the program has increased rates of long-term breastfeeding among participants. Her research also raises questions about how HFHB could be improved to make a bigger difference to child health.


Diving into NB’s data treasure

Dr. Magalhaes is a Research Associate with UNB’s New Brunswick Institute for Research, Data and Training (NB-IRDT). This secure facility stores different kinds of data collected through the provincial government and other sources, from health records to university graduation rates.

All the data is privacy-protected so that researchers can’t associate any piece of information with an individual. Neither can they access the data from outside the NB-IRDT’s physical location.

For her study, Dr. Magalhaes analyzed data associated with 1,211 families who participated in HFHB from April 2012 to March 2014. She compared this information with data from 1,366 similar families of first-time parents who did not join the program.

In other provinces that don’t have centralized data systems just collecting this amount of data would take a tremendous effort. But NB-IRDT not only makes it easy for researchers to access vast amounts of data—it also enables them to link together various data sets, providing multiple perspectives on a population.

Dr. Magalhaes explains, “The departments themselves can’t share data, but they can share it with us [NB-IRDT]. And then we can link it for the purposes of research.”

For her study, Dr. Magalhaes linked data from HFHB with data from the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development and from the Department of Health. This comparative exercise enabled her to see how participation in HFHB correlated with childhood development outcomes at 18 months and then at the preschool phase.


One question unlocks the next

In Dr. Magalhaes’s study, compared with an “average” first-time family, the families who received home visits through HFHB were 1.59 times more likely to be breastfeeding at 18 months. That’s an impressive result because breastmilk provides babies with “protective factors,” immune-boosting ingredients that reduce the risk of many childhood illnesses.

At the same time, the data analysis by Dr. Magalhaes showed that HFHB has not positively impacted “longer-term impacts.” While such a finding might sound disappointing, it’s exactly the kind of result that gets researchers and policymakers excited because it points to new questions about how to enhance programming.

As Dr. Magalhaes explains, most programs like HFHB focus their data collection efforts on tracking the number of participants. Her work has started to probe deeper to provide evidence on health impacts and reveal promising opportunities for research and improvement.

Going forward, Dr. Magalhaes plans to build on her findings regarding HFHB’s impact on breastfeeding rates by studying the program’s effects on childhood nutrition and growth.