Open Access Open Badges Study protocol

The COMPASS study: a longitudinal hierarchical research platform for evaluating natural experiments related to changes in school-level programs, policies and built environment resources

Scott T Leatherdale1*, K Stephen Brown2, Valerie Carson3, Ruth A Childs4, Joel A Dubin12, Susan J Elliott1, Guy Faulkner5, David Hammond1, Steve Manske6, Catherine M Sabiston5, Rachel E Laxer1, Chad Bredin6 and Audra Thompson-Haile6

Author Affiliations

1 School of Public Health and Health Systems, University of Waterloo, 200 University, Avenue, Waterloo, ON N2L 3G1, Canada

2 Department of Statistics and Actuarial Science, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Canada

3 Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation, University of Alberta, Waterloo, Canada

4 Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada

5 Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada

6 Propel Centre for Population Health Impact, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Canada

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BMC Public Health 2014, 14:331  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-14-331

Published: 8 April 2014



Few researchers have the data required to adequately understand how the school environment impacts youth health behaviour development over time.


COMPASS is a prospective cohort study designed to annually collect hierarchical longitudinal data from a sample of 90 secondary schools and the 50,000+ grade 9 to 12 students attending those schools. COMPASS uses a rigorous quasi-experimental design to evaluate how changes in school programs, policies, and/or built environment (BE) characteristics are related to changes in multiple youth health behaviours and outcomes over time. These data will allow for the quasi-experimental evaluation of natural experiments that will occur within schools over the course of COMPASS, providing a means for generating “practice based evidence” in school-based prevention programming.


COMPASS is the first study with the infrastructure to robustly evaluate the impact that changes in multiple school-level programs, policies, and BE characteristics within or surrounding a school might have on multiple youth health behaviours or outcomes over time. COMPASS will provide valuable new insight for planning, tailoring and targeting of school-based prevention initiatives where they are most likely to have impact.

Obesity; Physical activity; Tobacco; Substance use; Diet; Policy; Longitudinal; Built environment