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Research capsule

When data highlight health inequality

Heat and sudden infant death go hand in hand. Nathalie Auger, professor in the Department of Social and Preventive Medicine at the School of Public Health at Université de Montréal, confirmed the finding by searching through the birth and death records in Québec’s administrative databases. More specifically, when the outdoor temperature rises to 28°C in Montréal, babies under a year old are 2.8 times more likely to die suddenly than in 20-degree weather. When the temperature rockets to 30°C, the death rate increases fivefold.

Researchers usually gather data from the particular groups that take part in their studies. Nathalie Auger, who is also a member of the CHUM Research Centre, is an exception. She relies on administrative data to assemble her cohorts and respond to public health issues. “Québec has high-quality administrative databases that are underused because they are not well known,” she revealed. From this mine of information, the epidemiologist also discovered that the infant mortality and stillborn rates are two to three times higher among the province’s disadvantaged communities than the rest of the population. “The data highlight the inequalities between the living environments and prenatal care received by mothers in disadvantaged situations versus the other mothers in Québec,” explained Professor Auger.

Outside the box

After earning her medical degree at the University of British Columbia and completing her residency in community health at McGill University, Nathalie Auger chose to specialize in epidemiology*. She was drawn to the intellectual aspect and the scientific and logical facets of the work. The mother of four also appreciates the 9 to 5 lifestyle that her job provides. She is among a minority of researchers who choose the field. “It’s a less attractive sector for many because success is difficult to come by, making it harder to obtain funding,” she affirmed. But epidemiology can lead to surprising discoveries. Indeed, Nathalie Auger observed that the quality of the health data on women is much higher given that those who become pregnant go to more hospital visits: a gap that, according to Dr. Auger—who believes in equality between men and women in all fields—must be remedied.


*Epidemiology is the scientific discipline that studies the distribution, frequency, evolution, risk factors and impacts of health issues within a population.