COMPASS seminars 2018

Epidemic polio mortality in New Zealand, 1916–1949

Dr Heather Battles

18 July 2018

Poliomyelitis emerged as an epidemic disease in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The traditional model of its epidemiology is based on the hygiene hypothesis, which links the rise of polio to improved hygiene and sanitation and reduced crowding. However, according to the Intensive Exposure (IE) hypothesis, exposure to the poliovirus within the home leads to increased severity of infection; this makes crowding an important risk factor.

New Zealand polio mortality data for 415 individuals were collected from non-Maori death registrations for the epidemic periods of 1916, 1924–25, 1936–37 and 1947–49. Analysis to date shows mixed support for the IE hypothesis. I compare these results to previous findings from a study of polio mortality in southern Ontario, Canada. I also take a closer look at the 1916 epidemic, which resulted in over 1,000 notified cases and 125 deaths among Pākehā alone, in addition to an unknown number of cases and deaths among Māori. Scholarship on the once-forgotten 1918 influenza pandemic has illuminated how intimately linked that disease was to the War. Here I investigate the evidence for biological and social connections between the War and the 1916 polio epidemic.

Heather Battles completed her BA in Anthropology and History at the University of Victoria in BC, Canada, in 2005, before moving to Ontario for graduate studies. She completed her Masters in the Anthropology of Health and her PhD in Biological Anthropology, both at McMaster University. Her doctoral dissertation used historical records to examine the shifting social, geographical, and demographic patterns of polio mortality in southern Ontario in the early 20th century. She took up her current position in Biological Anthropology at the University of Auckland in 2014, beginning her ongoing research into polio mortality in New Zealand. She takes an inter-/multi-disciplinary approach to the study of epidemics, combining historical demography, infectious disease ecology, medical anthropology, and social history.

Blurred Boundaries: Social services and the mixed economy of welfare in Aotearoa New Zealand

Charlotte Moore

24 October 2018

Drawing upon mixed economy of welfare perspectives, my research examines how initiatives introduced by New Zealand’s National-led Government (2008–2017) further eroded boundaries between the state, the private sector, and the community and voluntary sector, and how this may impact on the ways in which citizens access or engage with social service providers.

These initiatives include the establishment of a ‘Social Investment Approach’, a commission of inquiry into ‘More Effective Social Services’ a social housing reform programme and the piloting of a number of new commissioning tools. Key aspects of reforms include a strong focus on outcomes or ‘what works’, the precision targeting and segmentation of service users, and efforts to streamline government contracting processes.

Drawing upon initial findings from qualitative interviews with key stakeholders in the social services sector in New Zealand, we can to identify a number of potential policy implications. These include reduced diversity of community and voluntary sector organisations as larger, more ‘corporate’ entities are rewarded with government contracts and smaller, locally embedded organisations become less viable.

Furthermore, there is a risk of reduced levels of trust in community organisations due to a perception that the personal information of service users may be shared with government funders. Finally, targeting of social services may increase stigma for some service users, while others may find reduced access to services where they do not meet higher thresholds for intervention.

Charlotte Moore (Rangitāne o Wairau, Pākehā) is a PhD Candidate in Sociology at the University of Auckland. Her current research interests include the provision of social services with a focus on community and voluntary sector organisations. She is also interested in state policymaking in relation to Māori. Her Masters thesis examined the evolution of the Whānau Ora approach to social service delivery. Charlotte is currently lecturing in Māori Studies as a Professional Teaching Fellow.

Bits & Bots: Co-Designing eHealth interventions for adolescent emotional wellbeing

Dr Karolina Stasiak

3 October 2018

Mental health problems are common and undertreated. Digital tools, and in particular smartphone apps, may play a part in providing inexpensive and scalable interventions, but to date few apps on the market come with evidence for their efficacy. There are even fewer tools aimed specifically at adolescents, and none have been developed in co-design with Māori and Pacifica youth. The talk described the processes and outcomes of co-designing a modular app for young people/rangatahi to support their emotional wellbeing.

We used a rapid prototyping and co-design approach to create a first-generation app for emotional health (depression, anxiety, stress). We ran 16 short lunchtime workshops with adolescents in two high schools and five in-depth school holiday workshops, collecting feedback weekly while working with a software developer, and graphics and narrative designers. We used gamification and a fantasy storyline to encourage users to use the app daily. The results of the proof of concept were that usage by the younger adolescents was encouraging, but older teens showed poorer engagement. On the basis of this, we applied several changes for the second-generation app and began working on a different intervention for the older users.

Karolina Stasiak is Senior Lecturer and Senior Research Fellow at the Department of Psychological Medicine. She co-developed SPARX – an award-winning and nationally implemented online serious game for adolescent depression and anxiety ( She is part of the HABITS Better Start / E Tipu E Rea National Science Challenge. She is keen to harness the potential of digital tools to empower young people.

Child poverty & health

Dr Nichola Shackleton

19 September 2018

I will be reporting on year 1 progress of our HRC project looking at the impact of poverty on child health.

The aims of this project were to:

  1. investigate the impact of income poverty on health in childhood,
  2. investigate which aspects of income poverty dynamics had the greatest impact on these health outcomes, and
  3. identify which factors most strongly mediate the association between income poverty and health.

We used longitudinal data from children in the Survey of Families, Income and Employment (SoFIE) linked to hospitalisation records as part of the Integrated Data Infrastructure.

We also supplemented our analyses by looking at the association between income poverty and hospitalisations for children in the 2013 census.

I will report the results of associations between different measures of income poverty and hospitalisations in childhood.

Nichola Shackleton is a Research Fellow at and Deputy Director of COMPASS Research Centre, working on projects utilising big data to examine health and wellbeing in the early life course. She completed her PhD on socioeconomic inequalities in childhood excessive weight in the UK in 2014. She worked as a research associate with the adolescent health research team at the UCL Institute of Child Health, where she worked on projects relating to the potential impact of schools on adolescents’ health and risk taking behaviours, and socioeconomic inequalities in adolescents’ health.

Neighbourhood environments and children's active travel – findings from participatory GIS in the Neighbourhoods for Active Kids study

Associate Professor Melody Smith & Dr Niamh Donnellan

12 September 2018

Neighbourhoods for Active Kids is a cross-sectional examination of links between neighbourhood built environments and health (physical activity, active transport, independent mobility, body size, nutrition behaviours) in Auckland children aged 9–13 years. An Internet-based mapping survey (softGIS) is used to understand and assess neighbourhoods from children’s perspectives – where they go, how they get around, what they like and dislike, and how they experience their neighbourhoods. Height, weight and waist circumference are measured and accelerometers are worn over eight days to calculate children’s levels of physical activity. Preliminary findings from the Neighbourhoods for Active Kids study will be presented with a focus on understanding children’s perceptions of their neighbourhoods and on links between the built environment and children’s activity and health.

Melody Smith focuses on aspirations for neighbourhoods where children can be independently mobile, where people can get around safely by walking and cycling, and where social and physical wellbeing are prioritised and facilitated. Her research involves understanding relationships between environments and health, with a particular focus on physical activity and active travel. She leads the Neighbourhoods for Active Kids study, using participatory geographic information systems, accelerometry, and parent and teacher surveys to understand environmental supports for health-promoting behaviours in over 1,100 children. She is also involved with the Te Ara Mua - Future Streets, the Youth2000 survey series, the Pacific Islands Families Study, Healthy Future Mobility Solutions – “Secret Recipe for Active School Travel”, and Enabling Participation for Youth Living with Disability. Melody is Associate Professor and Sir Charles Hercus Research Fellow in the School of Nursing. View Melody's research profile.

Niamh Donnellan is an emerging geospatial researcher in the field of health and environmental research. She completed her PhD in Health Geography at the GeoHealth Laboratory, University of Canterbury, in 2017. Her research is centred on understanding how social and built environments can enable or hinder active transport and physical activity behaviours in children and adults. In particular, her focus is on developing suitable geospatial methods for measuring these environments in order to identify and modify features of the neighbourhood to encourage walking and cycling. Niamh is currently developing and applying a novel approach to measuring the built environment, and testing associations with children’s health behaviours in Auckland, utilising data from the Neighbourhoods for Active Kids (NfAK) study. She is also completing geospatial analysis on other research by the NfAK team, working as a postdoctoral research fellow. Niamh also posts updates on papers from the NfAK team on Twitter (@niamhiedonn). View Niamh's research profile.

Food security

Dr Deborah Schlichting

1 August 2018

Background: Food security (FS) during infancy is associated with lifelong outcomes. New Zealand reports poor childhood nutrition-related health statistics, particularly among minority children, yet has no measure of FS applicable to infancy.

Objective: We developed an FS index for New Zealand infants and examined its association with socio-economic and demographic covariates, and health outcomes.

Design: Within a large (n = 6,853) nationally representative cohort, variables describing infant food consumption, breastfeeding, and maternal food-related coping were collected from mothers during late infancy. A FS index was derived using confirmatory factor analysis. Cohort socioeconomic and demographic characteristics, and infant health outcomes were described. Associations were assessed by logistic regressions and described using odds ratios (OR) and 95% and 99% confidence intervals (CI).

Results: Only 15% of the cohort were highly or extremely food secure, with 43% being tenuously food insecure, and 16% highly or extremely food insecure. Māori and Pacific infants’ odds of being food secure were half (OR 0.499, 95% CI 0.435, 0.572) and one-third (OR 0.336, 99% CI 0.287, 0.393) those of the reference group, respectively. Infants born to the youngest mothers (<20y) (OR 4.81, 95% CI 3.33–6.96), mothers who smoked (OR 4.09, 99% CI 3.30–5.06), or lived in low-income households (OR 3.23, 99% CI 2.79–3.74) had increased odds of food insecurity (FIS). Food insecure infants had higher odds (OR 1.38, 99% CI 1.20–1.59) of having a chest infection (bronchiolitis, bronchitis, pneumonia, or croup) lasting more than a week.

Conclusions: We identified that FIS, to some extent, affects around 72% of New Zealand infants, and shows wide ethnic and socioeconomic inequity. FIS in infancy was associated with increased odds of respiratory morbidity. The underlying conditions driving FIS included poor quality weaning diets and maternal material hardship. Increasing fruit and vegetable consumption to recommended intake levels would help to improve FS rates. Poverty and its proxies play an important role in driving FIS. Any interventions to improve infant FS should focus specifically on Māori and Pacific infants.

Deb Schlichting is an economist who specialises in food security. Her work in food security began with her doctoral research, for which she studied household food security in the northern areas of Pakistan. Since completing her PhD (University of Sydney, 2005) Deb has worked in the private and public sectors, and as an independent consultant, on a very broad range of issues around food security. She has provided research consultancy, predominantly on issues around food security, to the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, Kuwait Investment Authority, New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and private sector organisations. She has recently made the transition into paediatric public health economics and is a research fellow in the Department of Paediatrics at the University of Auckland. Deb is now focusing on developing an interdisciplinary research programme on child food security in New Zealand.

Nevertheless, She Disrupted: The Development of New Pasteurs

Professor Julia Lane (with Britta Glennon, Ridhima Sodhi, and Matt Ross)

20 June 2018

Little is known about the factors contributing to successful innovation because there is little data about the individual factors. Hypotheses have included:

  • Supportive networks and collaboration
  • Organisational environment
  • Levels of grant funding
  • Large and diverse teams.

Analyses have also been plagued by selection bias. Research funding offers a useful case study because new rich data including longitudinal information on individuals, projects and organisational structure has recently become available. This paper makes use of an interesting change in innovation patterns by gender to shed light on factors contributing to innovation. While women patent at a rate that is 40–50% of that of men, there have been increasing rates of patenting among young women, and increasing rates of patenting among female grant-funded inventors.

We combine the new data with new measures of disruptive patents to identify "New Pasteurs". We find that female "New Pasteurs" work in larger teams, are more likely to work with other female "New Pasteurs" and are more mobile.

Julia Lane is a Professor at NYU Wagner, the NYU Center for Urban Science and Progress, and an NYU Provostial Fellow for Innovation Analytics. Her research focuses on big data’s role in government and public policy. Previous to this, Dr Lane initiated and led the creation and permanent establishment of the Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics Program at the U.S. Census Bureau. This program began as a small two year ASA Census Bureau fellowship and evolved into the first large-scale linked employer-employee dataset in the United States. It is now a permanent Census Bureau program. Dr Lane has published over 70 articles in leading economics journals and authored and edited numerous books. She has been the recipient of more than $75 million in grants from foundations, government agencies, and international organizations. Dr Lane is the recipient of the 2014 Julius Shiskin award and the 2014 Roger Herriot award.

Using the Index of Multiple Deprivation to Understand Drivers of Deprivation: Waikato case study

Associate Professor Dan Exeter and Rachael McMillan

30 May 2018

The Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD) is a new measure of area deprivation for New Zealand. In this talk, the IMD and its development is briefly outlined and compared to NZDep2013, a census-based index of deprivation, before we explore the drivers of deprivation in the Waikato Region. Our analysis shows that overall, the IMD and NZDep2013 provide similar depictions of the Waikato Region however, a closer investigation using the Domains of the IMD suggests that the Waikato comprises some very disparate communities.

At the sub-regional level, no two communities have the same mix of drivers and some experience significant deprivation. This work suggests that central government, districts, social providers and others will need to consider the different drivers in each locality and how the underlying drivers work together to deepen deprivation in communities. Interventions will therefore need to be targeted to address the unique factors in each community.

Dan Exeter works in Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the School of Population Health, the University of Auckland. He is a quantitative health geographer and has a background in Geographical Information Systems and spatial analysis. Dan's research uses large data sets such as the census or routine health databases to identify the occurrence of, or potential solutions to, inequalities in health. Dan's current research interests focus on the use of data zones and the Index of Multiple Deprivation to explore health and social outcomes. He leads a Marsden-funded project investigating measures of socioeconomic position among older people, and is a co-investigator on the VIEW2020 HRC programme, investigating inequities in CVD treatment, management, and outcomes using big data.

Modelling career trajectories of cricket players using Gaussian processes

Oliver Stevenson

23 May 2018

In the sport of cricket, variations in a player's batting ability can usually be measured on two scales:

  • Short-term changes observed during a single innings, which can span multiple days; and
  • Long-term changes observed over entire playing careers, which can span decades.

To measure short-term, within-innings variation, a Bayesian survival analysis method is derived and used to fit a model that predicts how the batting abilities of professional cricketers change during an innings. A second model is then fitted using a Gaussian process to measure and predict between-innings variations in ability. Given the high dimensionality of the Gaussian process model, and for ease of model comparison, models are fitted using nested sampling.

Generally speaking, the results support an anecdotal description of a typical sporting career. Young players tend to begin their careers with some raw but undeveloped ability, which improves over time as they gain experience and participate in specialised training and coaching regimes. Eventually, players reach the peak of their careers, after which ability tends to decline. However, continual fluctuations in ability are commonly observed for many players, likely due to external factors such as injury and player form, which can lead to multiple peaks during a long career.

The results provide more accurate quantifications of a player's batting ability at any given point of their career, compared with traditional cricketing metrics. This has practical implications in terms of talent identification and team selection policy.

Oliver Stevenson is currently a PhD candidate in the Department of Statistics at the University of Auckland. He completed a Bachelor of Science degree in 2014 at the University of Otago, majoring in statistics and minoring in psychology. In 2015 he returned to his hometown of Auckland, where he has since completed Bachelor of Science (Honours) and Master of Science degrees, at the University of Auckland. His main interests are in statistical applications in sport, particularly in cricket, which is the main focus of his PhD work.

Ending the cardiovascular disease epidemic in New Zealand

Dr Corina Grey

16 May 2018

Despite steep declines in death rates over the past 40 years, cardiovascular disease remains a leading cause of mortality and an important contributor to differences in life expectancy between Māori, Pacific, and non-Māori non-Pacific New Zealanders.

Recent studies have demonstrated declines in the incidence and mortality of ischaemic heart disease and stroke in all ethnic groups, but there are indications that declines have been slower in Pacific people, and particularly Pacific women. If current trends continue, the already significant relative inequities in cardiovascular outcomes for Pacific people will widen, with adverse societal consequences.

This presentation will discuss recent research demonstrating ethnic inequalities in cardiovascular outcomes and put forward some ideas on how we, as researchers, scientists, and public health advocates, could initiate changes that may help to accelerate declines in cardiovascular disease for Māori and Pacific people.

Corina Grey is a public health physician and Research Fellow at Waitemata and Auckland DHBs and the University of Auckland (Section of Epidemiology and Biostatistics). She is part of the VIEW (Vascular Informatics Using Epidemiology and the Web) research team, and her research is focused on the epidemiology of acute coronary disease.

Uses and Application of Qualitative Research Methods in Policy Evaluations

Assistant Professor Alasdair Jones

28 March 2018

I will introduce a programme of work I will be undertaking during my visit to the Public Policy Institute (in conjunction with COMPASS) at the University of Auckland. This work will comprise a review and synthesis of existing approaches to research design for public policy evaluation that integrate a qualitative research component. My interest in this area stems from my involvement in a mixed-methods evaluation of the public health impact of a concessionary bus and tram fare scheme for school children in London (the ‘zip card’). Out of this study, my colleagues and I became interested in how the integration of quasi-experimental and inductive designs in evaluation might be conceptualised. I will make the case for one particular conceptual approach to thinking through the relationship between qualitative analysis and causal inference in evaluation. This argument will be grounded in a discussion of some of the findings of the ‘zip card’ evaluation.

More information on this work can be found at

Alasdair Jones is an Assistant Professor in Qualitative Research Methodology at the London School of Economics and the Programme Director for the Department of Methodology’s MSc Social Research Methods. He is also an Associate at LSE Cities. He is a sociologist by training, and has conducted research in a number of thematic areas including urban public space, the transport-health nexus, experiences of living in planned developments, and social care. These studies have involved a variety of methodological approaches and Alasdair has particular interests in the use of qualitative methods in evaluation studies.

Alasdair is visiting the University of Auckland on a UK National Centre for Research Methods ‘International Visitor Exchange Scheme’ award. Prior to working at the LSE, Alasdair held research positions at the University of Hertfordshire and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. He has also previously undertaken a Fulbright Scholarship at the Center for Ethnographic Research, UC Berkeley, and a Visiting Fellowship at the City Futures Research Centre, UNSW.

POPNZ – People’s Online Panel for New Zealand

Dr Barry Milne

28 February 2018

Online panels are samples of individuals with whom different online surveys are conducted over time. Currently all online panels in New Zealand are ‘non-probabilistic’ (opt-in) panels, populated by individuals who volunteer their services. The statistical validity and robustness of findings from non-probabilistic panels have been questioned. ‘Probabilistic’ online panels overcome these statistical shortcomings by randomly sampling individuals from the population of interest.

I will describe a new, national-probability online panel we are in the process of establishing: the People’s Online Panel for New Zealand (POPNZ). POPNZ is a survey panel service that academics, government, and other appropriately qualified researchers conducting public good research can utilise to understand the opinions of a representative panel of New Zealanders. I will describe the characteristics of this panel, how it can be used, and the interest researchers are already showing in POPNZ.

Dr Barry Milne is the Director of COMPASS Research Centre. He has a Masters degree in Psychology from the University of Otago, and a PhD in Psychiatric Epidemiology from Kings College London. His main interests are in life-course research, survey research, and the use of large administrative data sets to answer policy and research questions.