Achieving Healthy Weights for Young Children
Healthy Start is a comprehensive, evidence-based program for increasing healthy eating and physical activity opportunities in early learning environments. This bilingual initiative was developed in Saskatchewan by a group of partners led by the Réseau Santé en français de la Saskatchewan (Saskatchewan Network for Health Services in French), with the main source of funding provided by the Public Health Agency of Canada through the Innovation Strategy’s “Achieving Healthy Weights in Canadian Communities” as well as the Government of Saskatchewan’s Community Initiatives Fund. (hyperlink to Our Partners page)
Healthy Start is a story that started in 2012. During this time over 400 early learning and childcare sites and numerous partners have joined the Healthy Start movement. The program has achieved reach across Saskatchewan—as far south as Estevan and as far north as Fond-du-Lac!
The initiative was first envisioned by a coalition of health, university and community partners that came together in 2006 to promote early years health in Saskatchewan. By 2011 a pilot project was launched at 10 childcare centres across Saskatchewan, with core funding from the Public Health Agency of Canada’s Innovation Strategy, Achieving Healthy Weights Program. Healthy Start demonstrated success, and the project went on to receive two further phases of funding from the Public Health Agency of Canada. Spanning 2013-2020, Healthy Start has worked with over 400 early learning centres in Saskatchewan and over 40 locations in the province of New Brunswick.
The program is framed by population health model. It set out ambitious short, medium and long-term goals, aligned with the province’s Early Year’s Plan (2016-2020).
A Unique Program
Many factors have made Healthy Start truly unique. It is a completely bilingual program, an element that facilitated its expansion from Saskatchewan to New Brunswick. Healthy Start also worked with an extensive evaluation team comprised of researchers from the University of Saskatchewan and l’Université de Moncton who supported evidence-based research for the development of the program.
Cultural and Linguistic Adaptations
To reach even more children in Saskatchewan the team made cultural adaptations to the Healthy Start program. For Indigenous communities, Healthy Start put their training content and resources under a holistic lens and made changes so it aligned with the Indigenous culture. In addition, a series of activity cards were developed with Indigenous ways of learning based on traditional activities and storytelling. Through local and professional feedback, the program’s language was also simplified to be more inclusive of individuals for whom English or French is an additional language, including Indigenous and new Canadian families.
As Healthy Start looks towards the future, from now until 2020 we will focus on long-term sustainability. The program has integrated various enhancements such as family programming, additional physical literacy concepts, and web-based training and webinars. These new tools will allow even more early childhood practitioners to access the Healthy Start program and stay involved from anywhere in Canada.