Investing in a healthy future by creating healthy habits in the early years

Encouraging healthy eating and physical activity in the early years of a child’s life could have long lasting effects into adulthood.

On January 18th, coordinators, community partners and policy makers gathered at the Healthy Start/Départ Santé Symposium in Saskatoon to share and reveal how healthy eating and physical activity have an immediate and long term impact.

“As an adult, it is expected that the children who become healthier will be using less of those health care services – that means there’s substantial saving there for the publicly funded health care system,” panelist Dr. Nasmi Sari said during at the symposium.

“That’s a benefit that you will get out of this intervention.”

Healthy Start/Départ Santé is a bilingual initiative intended to encourage healthy eating and physical activity for children aged three to five in Saskatchewan and New Brunswick. The initiative originated from a partnership of individuals and organizations that wanted to include an early years component to the Saskatoon Health Region’s in-motion program.

Dr. Sari has experience in researching healthcare financing reforms, as well as quality and efficiency issues in hospital markets.

He added that if the Healthy Start/Départ Santé initiative results in having any impact on the lives of people later on in life, such as shorter hospital stays, that could mean cost savings on the health care system.

Healthy Start/Départ Santé has already lead to immediate changes within the childcare centres where it has been implemented.

Tasha Balkwill, executive director of the Whitmore Park Child Care Co-op in Regina, has been using the Healthy Start/Départ in her day care for about a year. She noted how the children are no longer scared of trying new foods thanks to fun and easy Healthy Start/Départ Santé ideas implemented in the daily routine.

“The children will eat really quite anything we put out now,” Balkwill said. “They’re not scared of new foods and the children that are more hesitant to eat new foods are way more accepting to try it.”

Healthy Start/Départ Santé encourages staff and educators to provide children with healthy foods to choose from. When given a choice, children appeared to be more likely to try new foods, Balkwill said.

To promote activity, the initiative suggests that children should reach about 180 minutes of physical activity a day – which can seem like a daunting task, Balkwill noted.

“It’s not always vigorous (activity),” Balkwill said. “It could be bending down to clean up, just anything where their entire body is moving or part of their body is moving so they’re not just sitting still in a solitary state all day, sitting on the carpet doing nothing.

“That has really jump started us and changed the centre quite a bit,” she added.

What’s next for Healthy Start/Départ Santé?

Healthy Start/ Départ Santé project manager Gabrielle Lepage-Lavoie noted the symposium was an opportunity to share results from the last four years with key stakeholders, government partners and policy makers.

The Symposium also marks the end of Phase 2 of the initiative.

“We wanted to be able to tell our story, share some successes, lessons learned and then to launch our continued work with Phase 3,” Lepage-Lavoie said.

Phase 3, expected to continue until 2019, will focus on long-term sustainability and expansion of Healthy Start/Départ Santé in both Saskatchewan and New Brunswick, funded in part by the Public Health Agency of Canada.

Lepage-Lavoie noted the third phase is also an opportunity to create a sustainability mechanism for the initiative, such as an online training. The Healthy Start/Départ Santé team will look for ways to increase parent engagement and adapt the initiative for various cultures.

“It will be a jam packed three years,” Lepage-Lavoie said.

Healthy Start is led by the Réseau Santé en français de la Saskatchewan is funded by the Public Health Agency of Canada and the Community Initiatives Fund; and partnered with the University of Saskatchewan including the Department of Community Health and Epidemiology, College of Medicine; College of Kinesiology; College of Pharmacy & Nutrition.

Other Healthy Start partners include the Centre de formation médicale du N-B, (Université de Sherbrooke et de Moncton, New Brunswick); Saskatchewan Early Childhood Association (SECA); the Saskatchewan Prevention Institute; Active Kids/Jeunes actifs, New Brunswick; Association des parents Fransaskois (APF); NB Family Resource Centres; ECE Colleges in Saskatchewan and New Brunswick; and the Ministries of Education and Health in Saskatchewan and New Brunswick.



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