A Healthy Community Raises a Healthy Child

 

Without decisive action, today’s children could become the first generation of Canadians to have shorter life-spans than their parents. The growing twin epidemics of physical inactivity and unhealthy eating is placing the health of Canadian children at risk and threatens to be a massive driver of heart disease, stroke and soaring health costs in the future.

A strategic partnership—including health organizations, school boards and other community partners in children’s health—in the Champlain region of Eastern Ontario is aiming to change that. Supported by the Heart and Stroke Foundation, the Champlain Cardiovascular Disease Prevention Network and the Propel Centre for Population Health Impact, the Champlain School Facilitation Program has worked with 16 elementary schools to develop and execute a School Action Plan that combines nutrition, active play and school travel planning.

Studies show that schools are a well-established setting for population health strategies. Not only do children spend more time in schools than in any other environment outside the home, but health and education success are linked: schools achieve their primary mission of education more successfully if students are healthy and fit (Cutler & Lleras-Muney, 2006; Rose & Wu, 1995; IUHPE, 2009).

Participating schools receive seed funding in the amount of $1,150, as well as ongoing support from a school facilitator to help them develop and implement their School Action Plan. Plans are tailored to schools’ needs and informed by school survey data. Facilitated approaches can help schools improve their environments and the physical activity and eating behaviours of school-aged childrena. The facilitator guides schools in taking action through mobilization and engagement of champions, establishing relevant goals, providing tools and resources and supporting implementation using a comprehensive school health approach. The emphasis is on school environments (vs. individuals), healthy behaviours (vs. weight) and shifting school culture.

The project is currently being evaluated and progress will be reported in the fall of 2014. The Intervention and evaluation incorporate comprehensive school health which is aligned with the Healthy School Communities framework (see Figure 1). Evidence has shown that schools will be more successful in their efforts to create healthy school communities if they focus action in five areas: 1) teaching and learning, 2) the physical and social environment, 3) policy, 4) community partnerships & services and 5) gathering evidence for learning and accountability.

This school facilitation model has already been modified for use in the Frontier School District in Manitoba. The collaborative project seeks to strengthen relationships with First Nations communities and to enhance current healthy living policies to help students lead a more active and healthy lifestyle. By adopting healthy behaviours at a young age, children can reduce their risk of heart disease or stroke and lead healthier, more active and longer lives.  Through projects like these the Heart and Stroke Foundation aims to provide Canadians with healthy lives free of heart disease and stroke.

References:

a Squire, L., Yessis, J, Manske, S, Baskerville, B. (2012). Facilitated Approaches to Healthy Eating and Active Living in School Settings: Review of Literature. Waterloo, Ontario: Propel Centre for Population Health Impact, University of Waterloo.