UO The University of Ottawa established the R. Samuel McLaughlin Centre for Population Health Risk Assessment within the Institute of Population Health in 2001. The goal of the Centre has been to establish itself as a leading international research centre in population health risk studies, through the development of a unique academic program of research and training in risk studies. This is a field that continues to be underdeveloped in Canada, and the University of Ottawa has been well-positioned to assume a leadership role in this area.

Risks to population health are of concern to all Canadians. As in other developed countries, the health status of Canadians has improved steadily since the turn of the century, with aggregate indicators of health such as life expectancy continuing to demonstrate progress. These gains
have been due to public health practices such as sanitation of drinking water supplies; to major technological advances in health care, including disease diagnosis and treatment; to successes in controlling vaccine preventable disease; and to the identification and control of microbiological radiological, and chemical hazards present in the environment

Scientific advances have provided us with the technical capacity to identify previously unsuspected risks to health. In the 1950s, advances in analytical chemistry permitted the identification of aflatoxin B, one of the most potent chemical carcinogens known, in peanut butter. More recently, dioxins have been found and virtually eliminated from a number of paper products, including those coming into contact with food. Radon gas, which is naturally released from all rocks and soils and consequently found in small concentrations in all homes in Canada, was unknown in the 1970s but is now considered the second leading cause of lung cancer after tobacco smoking. It is safe to assume that scientific tools such as molecular and genetic epidemiology will continue to identify new health risks that will demand attention.

Socio-economic factors and personal practices commonly act as mediators between environmental and genetic factors, and health status. The association between poverty and ill-health is universal, and underscores the need to address inequities in population health due to economic disparities in the Canadian population. Social circumstances influence health behaviours; despite extensive efforts to reduce tobacco consumption, cigarette smoking remains the single most important preventable cause of premature mortality in Canada. Interventions to modify health-related behaviors pose substantive societal questions requiring a balance between individual rights and the social good.Recognizing the broad range of determinants of population health risk, the University of Ottawa has undertaken a major initiative in population health. A key component of this initiative was the creation of a Centre for Population Health Risk Assessment which now focuses on the assessment and management of risks to the health of Canadians. Located within the Institute of Population Health at the University of Ottawa, the Centre for Population Health Risk Assessment provides a focal point for health risk studies in the National Capital Region. Unique in Canada, the Centre serves as a leading international research centre in the field of population health risk studies, thereby promoting cost-effective risk management decision making.