Dr. Heather Gainforth

Principal Investigator

B.Sc. [Kinesiology] (McMaster University)
M.Sc. [Kinesiology] (Queen’s University)
Ph.D. [Kinesiology] (Queen’s University)
Postdoctoral Fellow [Health Psychology] (University College London)
Associate Professor, School of Health and Exercise Sciences, University of British Columbia Okanagan

Research Interests

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Dr. Heather Gainforth’s academic training in Health Promotion, Knowledge Translation and Kinesiology has fostered her belief that evidence-based health-promotion interventions and guidelines must be widely disseminated both in general and special populations. Her research aims to close the gap between health behaviour-change research and practice by examining knowledge translation – the act of moving research evidence into the hands of research users. Her Applied Behaviour Change Lab works to understand how evidence-based behaviour-change research is applied in the real world. Her team attempts to identify, develop, and implement interventions to change a variety of behaviours (e.g., physical activity, participation, smoking cessation) in the general and spinal cord injury (SCI) populations. Her systems-based research is grounded in behaviour change theory and techniques and is guided by strong collaborations between researchers and communities.

Dr. Gainforth is an ICORD Investigator and Assistant Professor at UBC Okanagan. She conducted her M.Sc. and Ph.D. at Queen’s University under the supervision of Dr. Amy Latimer-Cheung. Her CIHR-funded doctoral research aimed to understand the dissemination of the physical activity guidelines for people with SCI within a community organization. She conducted her post-doctoral research at the University College London in the Centre for Behaviour Change. Her CIHR-funded postdoctoral research was conducted in partnership with the English Stop Smoking Services and was supervised by the developers of the Behaviour Change Technique (BCT) taxonomies (Professors Michie and West). Since arriving at UBCO in July 2015, she has applied her behaviour change and knowledge translation background to continue to enhance the lives of people with SCI. She works with several SCI researchers and SCI organizations across Canada and currently holds SSHRC funding to investigate peer mentorship among people with SCI.

Major contributions:

Dr. Gainforth’s scholarship on the dissemination of the physical activity guidelines for people with SCI indicated that partnering with SCI organizations is important for ensuring findings are useful and translatable to people with SCI. Her network analysis research examining one SCI community organization indicated that peer mentors and SCI organization staff are important knowledge translation messengers within the SCI community. She investigated peer mentorship among people with SCI and found that that it is feasible to train peer mentors with SCI to use evidence-based behaviour change tools to support mentees. Dr. Gainforth also published the first book and article outlining the derivation of the 83 theories of behaviour and behaviour change, identified by an expert panel of psychologists, sociologists, anthropologists and economists as relevant to designing interventions..

Techniques Employed in the Lab:

  • Behavioural analysis
  • Multivariate analyses
  • Network analysis
  • Dynamic systems
  • State space grids

Affiliations with Organizations:

  • Member, United Kingdom Society of Behavioural Medicine
  • Member, British Psychological Society, Division of Health Psychology
  • Member, Canadian Society for Psychomotor Learning and Sports Psychology (SCAPPS)
  • Member, Society of Behavioral Medicine (SBM)
  • Member, Canadian Thoracic Society (CTS) (2013 – 2014)


  • Top 10 Papers in Theories and Techniques of Behavior Change in 2015 (Society of Behavioral Medicine Theories and Techniques SIG, 2016)
  • Early Career Award (United Kingdom Society of Behavioural Medicine Award, 2014)
  • Governor General’s Academic Gold Medal Nominee (Queen’s University, 2014)
  • Social Sciences Outstanding Thesis Award Winner (Queen’s University, 2014)
  • Franklin Henry Young Scientist Award (Canadian Society for Psychomotor Learning & Sports Psychology (SCAPPS), 2013)
  • Poster Award Winner Education (5th National Spinal Cord Injury Conference, 2012)

Current Lab Members:

Undergraduate Students Master Students Ph.D. Students Post-Doctoral Fellows Research Staff
Mikayla Meyers Alanna Shwed Dr. Femke Hoekstra Zhiyang Shi
Laney Twerdohlib Emily Giroux Divya Kanwar Bhati
Kelsey Wuerstl Christina Skinner

Trainee Awards:

Year Name Award
2021-2024 Dr. Femke Hoekstra Trainee Award, MSFHR
2021-2023 Dr. Femke Hoekstra Postdoctoral Fellowship, Craig Neilsen Foundation
2021-2022 Rhyann McKay CIHR Health Systems Impact Fellowship
2021-2022 Kelsey Wuerstl CIHR CGS Doctoral Award
2021-2022 Emily Giroux SSHRC Doctoral Award
2021 Dr. Femke Hoekstra Trainee Award, MSFHR
2021 Dr. Femke Hoekstra Postdoctoral Fellowship, Craig Neilsen Foundation
2020 Dr. Femke Hoekstra Postdoctoral Fellowship, CIHR
2020 Emily Giroux British Columbia Graduate Scholarship, UBCO
2020 Emily Giroux Impact BC Scholarship, UBCO
2020 Rhyann McKay Graduate Scholarship, UBCO

Recent publications

  • Hoekstra, F et al.. 2024. The co-development and evaluation of an e-learning course on spinal cord injury physical activity counselling: a randomized controlled trial.. BMC Med Educ. doi: 10.1186/s12909-024-05141-7.
  • Giroux, EE, Athanasopoulos, P, Sweet, SN, Gainforth, HL. 2024. A case study of using community-based consensus methods to facilitate shared decision-making among a spinal cord injury network.. Front Rehabil Sci. doi: 10.3389/fresc.2024.1335467.
  • Gainforth, HL et al.. 2024. Transforming research systems for meaningful engagement: a reflexive thematic analysis of spinal cord injury researchers' barriers and facilitators to using the integrated knowledge translation guiding principles.. Disabil Rehabil. doi: 10.1080/09638288.2024.2310171.
  • Sibley, KM et al.. 2023. Characterizing Canadian funded partnered health research projects between 2011 and 2019: a retrospective analysis.. Health Res Policy Syst. doi: 10.1186/s12961-023-01046-x.
  • Hoekstra, F et al.. 2023. Applying state space grids methods to characterize counsellor-client interactions in a physical activity behavioural intervention for adults with disabilities.. Psychol Sport Exerc. doi: 10.1016/j.psychsport.2022.102350.
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