Welcome to HC Link's blog! Our blog will provide you with useful information on healthy community topics, news, and resources, as well as information on HC Link’s events, activities, and resources. Our bloggers include HC Link staff and consultants, as well as our partnering organizations, clients, and experts in the health promotion field.

Please note: opinions in posts are those of the author and are not necessarily the opinions of HC Link or our funder.

We look forward to engaging in thought-provoking conversation with you!

To view past blogs, please click on the home icon below left.

Robyn is a Health Promotion Specialist - Technology Specialization with Health Nexus, and often posts on behalf of other HC Link staff.

Built to Last: Sustainability Does Wonders!

(Or, "You’re taking away our hotdogs? This is supposed to be a democracy!”)

In the afternoon on the first day of our HC Link conference, the Local Project Managers for the Healthy Kids Community Challenge communities had a private session to chat and learn about sustainability. Between online and in-person participants, we had LPMs from about 2/3 of the projects present, which was a terrific turn-out!

LPMs arranged the content for the session – Cyndi (from KFLA), Fenicia (from Toronto) and Luke (from Sault Ste Marie) led the presentation. Naomi Giuliano shared a story about the Healthy Kids charter in the Superior North Greenstone HKCC region. HC Link provided space in the conference agenda, as well as the online connection.

LPM session photo

Key questions in the open discussion were:

  1. How has your HKCC operational structure supported the Program to be sustainable? What are some of the advantages or disadvantages?
  2. Are your key stakeholders committed to continuing the Program? If not, what's required for them to do so?
  3. What opportunities do you see? Are there any challenges?

Discussion flowed both online and in the room – sharing stories and challenges; making connections; and just enjoying the chance to be in the same space. LPMs can find the slides and continue the discussion in their private space on The Source.

Thanks for a great session, LPMs!


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Peer sharing session about online community engagement

By Robyn Kalda, HC Link

On November 23, I facilitated an HC Link peer-sharing webinar on online community engagement. I had the misfortune to lose my internet connection half a dozen times during the session, which is always exciting when one is facilitating -- a huge thank-you to the participants for your patience! And to Andrea Bodkin, HC Link's Coordinator, who stepped in as technical backup.

We left the definition of "online community engagement" open. Whether it's a community that wants to engage online, or an online community that wants to increase engagement, a community is the people involved and not the technology, so it's quite possible to talk about both at once.

We discussed creating a Terms of Reference for an online community -- the difficulty of drafting such a thing before discussing it with potential community members, yet the need for management accountability. The need for flexibility in the document was raised, so that the group can grow and change over time and feel ownership of the community.

Next, people suggested ways to pique people's interest in the community. Relevance was key here: connect people to content and expertise, help them with their work and goals. One participant was running a community that had recently added a feature that allowed users to tag others in discussions if their opinions or expertise would be helpful -- at which point they are emailed a notification, and their response (or lack thereof) is, of course, visible, providing some mild peer pressure to participate.

Participants felt regular updates helped a community both feel and stay active. A monthly newsletter via email, with links back to the community highlighting what's new / hot topics / upcoming events was one great idea, as were occasional face-to-face meetings (if possible).

Thinking about the technology itself, people generally suggested thinking first about what functions the community truly needs and where people are already. Can you start with a plain old email list? Or Facebook? Often, you can. It's easier for people to engage if it doesn't involve learning an entirely new tool.

The issue of moderation was raised. Moderation can be fantastically time-consuming and a source of contention, in my experience, so I suggested avoiding it if at all possible. Others pointed out that group culture, if developed carefully over time, often works well to counter or discourage inappropriate posts. Sometimes supporting people behind the scenes to post and model a desired behaviour -- social support of a good post, or respectful criticism -- can work well to get things going.

We finished by encouraging people to join HC Link's discussion list, Community-Links (, and to get in touch if they had questions that weren't answered in the peer-sharing session.

Thanks to all the participants!

Here are some of the resources that were shared in the session:

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Recap: Canada’s Vision Zero Summit 2016

This post is part of a blog series leading up to Canada’s Vision Zero Summit on November 29, 2016. Learn more about Sweden’s Vision Zero approach and Parachute’s Canadian approach.

We’re just wrapping up a terrific day at Parachute Canada’s Vision Zero Summit (#VZSummit).

After opening words from Parachute’s Pamela Fuselli (@PFuselli), City Councillor Jaye Robinson (@JayeRobinson), who is Chair of the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee, spoke with both optimism and determination about Toronto’s progress towards Vision Zero. Some highlights: “watch your speed” signs near schools, red-light cameras at 79 priority locations, a plan to double bike infrastructure (hurray!), and a massive education campaign beginning in 2017. She noted that Vision Zero has had strong – and much appreciated -- support from the media.

A panel on Vision Zero around the world followed, moderated by Dr. Ian Pike. Dr. Pike enumerated five key areas for laws that help reduce road deaths: speed, drunk driving, helmets, seatbelts, and required child restraints.

Dr Mats-Åke Belin, speaking via video from Sweden and by a previously recorded presentation, noted that Vision Zero is a scientific, systematic approach to safety, putting responsibility on professionals instead of blaming road users. Implementation isn’t one-size-fits-all, however; and as more countries adopt the approach, we can learn from each other.

Dr. David Sleet spoke from his experience at the Centres for Disease Control in the US, noting that on the list of public health achievements of 20th century, #10 was advances in road safety: road safety is the intersection of transport and public health. As Europe saw 50% a reduction in alcohol-related and 47% in non-alcohol related road deaths over 10 years, he said, Vision Zero can be a philosophy, useful in keeping people’s eyes on the eventual goal of zero deaths. Implementation requires goals & targets to be set, the use of evidence-based strategies, and mechanisms to assess impact. Examples of interventions included rumble strips (which reduce run-off-road crashes by 40%) and graduated licensing, in particular reducing the number of passengers allowed in cars driven by new drivers. Each city’s mayor must commit to endorsing #VisionZero, among other requirements for designation – an interesting indicator!

Ian Grossman (@AAMVAConnection) from the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (the body that represents US and Canadian driver authorities) spoke about the Toward Zero Deaths document (the US strategy on highway safety) and the Road to Zero Coalition. Toward Zero Deaths is a data-driven approach, with proven countermeasures listed in the report. Areas of emphasis in the report include drivers & passengers, vulnerable users, vehicles, infrastructure, emergency medical services, and safety management. He noted that trying to shift safety culture is the big game-changer: of course it isn’t easy, but it has been done – for example, motorbike helmets. He encouraged everyone to explore the clearinghouse for initiatives at

A question came up at the end of the panel: What should Canada do? Something at the national level? At the provincial level? City level? Answer: Yes, yes, and yes.

Ned Levitt of Parachute’s Board challenged everyone – in memory of his 18-year-old daughter, who was hit by a car while out running and died -- to never give up the fight for safer roads.

An award was presented to the Ambassador of Sweden, Per Sjögren, to recognize Sweden’s lead on Vision Zero.

The next panel, moderated by Dr. Marie-Soleil Cloutier, covered the Canadian road safety environment.

Christine Le Grand of the Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators talked about Canada’s Road Safety Strategy 2025. It focuses on a number of specific risk groups as well as the general population. A database of safety measures that have been proven or are promising is available at

The Canadian Urban Institute’s Glenn Miller (@CANURB) focused on seniors and mobility, because Canada is aging: 1 in 6 Canadians is over 65, and it will be 1 in 4 by 2041. The safety of all roles -- drivers, cyclists, pedestrians, and people using mobility devices – is important (although he noted that cyclists mostly forgotten when talking about seniors' safety). The Age Friendly Communities initiative aims to reduce the need for seniors to drive. They define mobility as the ability to travel SAFELY where and when you want.

Tony Churchill (@CARSInfo), from the Canadian Association of Road Safety Professionals, gave us a spoiler alert: Vision Zero is NOT about cyclists and pedestrians, but about all road users. We need to make sure messaging reaches everyone, because people ARE traffic. Semantics are important: accidents vs. collisions, aspirational vs. realistic, target/goal vs. vision….

Finally, Traffic Injury Research Foundation President and CEO Robyn Robertson (@TIRFCanada) named drugs, distraction, and automated vehicles as the three priority road issues for the next decade. Drivers testing positive for alcohol have declined in recent years, but positive drug tests have increased. Issues in implementing drug-impaired driving interventions include both the complexity of the science and popular misconceptions about the riskiness of the behaviour. TIRF’s drug-impaired driving learning centre will be available in December. Distracted driving kills about 300 people per year in Canada, especially 20-34-year-olds; a national strategy is coming in January.

The after-lunch panel was moderated by Linda Rothman and talked on a more practical level about what Vision Zero efforts are happening in Canada.

Gerry Shimko from the Office of Traffic Safety in Edmonton opened the panel. Edmonton was the first city in Canada to approve Vision Zero as their road safety strategy in their 2016-2020 plan. Targeted implementations, including right- and left-hand turn alterations, have helped Edmonton reduce road injuries from 8200 in 2006 to 3800 in 2015. At one intersection there used to be 35 crashes a year and that has now dropped to only two. “You have to do something illegal to crash there now,” he said.

Roger Browne, Manager of the City of Toronto Traffic Safety Unit Toronto talked about Toronto’s new five-year, $80M road safety plan. It has six primary emphasis areas with specific countermeasures proposed for each: pedestrians, school children, older adults, cyclists, aggressive drivers & distraction, and motorcyclists. Many agencies were partners in creating the plan as part of a large working group – again, a theme of the day; virtually all successful Vision Zero efforts involve large, diverse partnerships or coalitions. Organizational transformation inside the City is key: there must be a fundamental shift from an opportunistic to a strategic approach. They also changed focus. Since 74% of fatalities were vulnerable road users over past 5 years, it made sense to focus on these serious crashes instead of on routine fender-benders. Browne’s key lessons: 1. Be data driven. 2. Be more strategic than opportunistic. 3. Leverage existing resources.

Greg Hart (@GregsThinking) of Safe Calgary talked a lot about the word “should” and how it’s a red flag. "Should" is a product of attention & willpower: to do something you “should” do, you must be paying attention AND have the necessary willpower, interest to act. But both attention and willpower are extremely limited, much more limited than we think, and so decisions about driving are made based on environmental cues you're not consciously processing. Instead, we need to use a high emphasis on design. Enforcement should be for the lowest-performing 10% of users because design should ensure normal users do the right thing. Since people who feel vulnerable drive more carefully, design can incorporate features that make people feel more vulnerable: novel, variable, ambiguous, complex, unauthorized, proximal, opaque…. In Calgary they are aiming for safe and smooth mobility for everybody. Smooth means presenting design so people do the safe thing -- you create more successful situations so we criminalize fewer people and have fewer injuries.

The working part of the day wrapped up with a forward-looking charrette session led by the George Brown Institute Without Boundaries to get people to tease out thoughts about actions, drivers of change, and more. They’ll pull the results into a report for Parachute.

The day ended with a very welcome reception – let’s hope everyone made good plans to #GetHomeSafe!

HC Link’s blog series on Vision Zero

Vision Zero: No more road deaths

Why I’m SO Excited about Vision Zero

Vision Zero’s approach to infrastructure: Making mobility safe from the start

Public health and Vision Zero: what role do we have to play?

Working toward zero - together

What should we do? Reflections from the Vision Zero Summit


Looking to learn more about Vision Zero?

Sweden’s Vision Zero Website

Parachute’s Vision Zero Website


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Working Towards Zero -- Together

This post is part of a blog series leading up to Canada’s Vision Zero Summit on November 29, 2016. Learn more about Sweden’s Vision Zero approach and Parachute’s Canadian approach.

It struck me that the first panel at the Vison Zero Summit this morning was really about partnership. Partnership, of course, is a topic dear to the hearts of health promoters everywhere, so to hear its critical importance emphasized by speakers as varied as City Councillor and Chair of the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee, Jaye Robinson, event sponsor, State Farm, and transportation experts from Sweden and the USA was heartening indeed.

To reach zero road deaths, we need a collective effort. Every speaker this morning was clear: transport experts, planners, public health, educators, and all levels of government -- city, province, national (and even beyond) -- even car companies -- need to work together. Just as cooperation at every level was necessary for the near-elimination of polio worldwide, so too will it be necessary for Vision Zero to succeed.

Ian Grossman (@AAMVAConnection), of the Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, talked about the challenge they had in the US getting transport people and public health into the same room when they were working on the reaching consensus while working on the Toward Zero Deaths report ( Then they needed to decide whether to include only the small interventions that they knew would lead to large changes in road deaths or to have an all-inclusive document including smaller contributors to change, so that everyone could see themselves in the report. The all-inclusive approach won out and (as well as the report) they created an online database of resources and interventions ( at all levels, available to anyone.

Near the end of the session there was a question: What should Canada do? Should we work nationally? provincially? At the city level? The answer: Yes, yes, yes. We have to work at all levels, together, to reach zero road deaths – because one is too many.
This post is part of a blog series leading up to Canada’s Vision Zero Summit on November 29, 2016. Learn more about Sweden’s Vision Zero approach and Parachute’s Canadian approach.

HC Link’s blog series on Vision Zero
Looking to learn more about Vision Zero?
Sweden’s Vision Zero Website
Parachute’s Vision Zero Website
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Vision Zero: No more road deaths

What's more important: letting cars move quickly, or keeping everyone (inside and outside cars) safe? Is risk of death or injury the price we have to pay for mobility? As health promoters, we see injury prevention (as well as pollution and healthy neighbourhoods) as a key component of healthy communities, and road safety as surely something worthy of serious design efforts that mitigate danger. The international Vision Zero movement agrees.

"No loss of life is acceptable. In every situation a person might fail -- the road system should not. This is the core principle of the Vision Zero concept." --

In essence, Vision Zero works to design transportation systems that compensate for human error. Whatever mistake you might make as an imperfect and distractable human, the systems around you should protect you. It's an approach that puts much more emphasis on design and much less on the behaviour of the system's users. When health promoters talk about lifestyle issues we often say "make the healthy choice the easy choice" -- it's easy to see how Vision Zero is doing exactly that.

On November 29, HC Link Coordinator Andrea Bodkin and I are excited to be covering the Vision Zero Summit on social media. Organized by Parachute, the Summit will look at how Vision Zero is being implemented in Canada, drawing on examples from Canada and beyond. Watch for our tweets and blog posts!

As Edmonton, which was the first Canadian city to officially adopt Vision Zero, says:

"Why should you get behind Vision Zero?

We all want our loved ones to get home safely."

HC Link’s blog series on Vision Zero

Vision Zero: No more road deaths

Why I’m SO Excited about Vision Zero

Vision Zero’s approach to infrastructure: Making mobility safe from the start

More information:

Vision Zero (Sweden)

Vision Zero Canada

Parachute Canada - Vision Zero

Canada's Vision Zero Summit

Summit hashtag: #VZSummit

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Healthy Kids Community Challenge: “Water Does Wonders”

By Robyn Kalda, HC Link

As a member of the Healthy Kids Resource Centre, HC Link is proud to support the Healthy Kids Community Challenge program. This program promotes children’s health by focusing on a healthy start in life, healthy food, and healthy active communities. After nearly a year on the first theme of the program “Run. Jump. Play. Every Day.”, in July the 45 participating communities launched into the second theme, “Water Does Wonders”.


The principal message of this theme is to encourage kids to drink water instead of sugar-sweetened beverages when they are thirsty. Sugar-sweetened beverages are completely unnecessary as part of a healthy diet. The Heart and Stroke Foundation says:

“Consuming too much sugar is associated with heart disease, stroke, obesity, diabetes, high blood cholesterol, cancer and cavities.”

How can we encourage children (and their families) to drink more water, and to drink water instead of sugary drinks? The 45 participating communities have lots of ideas.

A popular idea is distributing reusable water bottles to kids. A number of communities encouraged families to photograph themselves with their reusable water bottles while engaging in various physical activities, and to share their photos on social media.

When one has a reusable water bottle, it’s important to be able to refill it. To fill this need, various communities are installing refill stations.

As another idea to illustrate “Water Does Wonders” for health, in the summer various communities sponsored free swims – water in enormous quantity!

For other participating communities, clean, drinkable, safe water is not easily available. In these communities, participants are working to improve access to clean water as a necessary co-requisite to encouraging children to drink more water.

Follow the participating communities on Twitter in English #HealthyKidsON and #IChooseTapWater and in French #enfantsensanteON.


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A few words in favour of Pokémon Go

By Robyn Kalda, HC Link Consultant

As health promoters, we frequently can be heard disparaging video games. All that screen time! Why don't people go outside? Well, Pokémon Go is getting people outside -- albeit with screens still firmly in hands. What can we do to emphasize the health-promoting aspects of the game? Here are a few ideas.

Encourage inter-generational activity

Kids, parents, and grandparents can all play. Age gives no advantage, so it's a fair game for all. Parents may find kids who play Pokémon Go are more willing to walk around their neighbourhoods, to take on chores such as dog-walking, and to tag along on dull errands such as grocery shopping, as they have to walk several kilometres to hatch Pokémon eggs. Time to encourage family Pokémon-hunting walks after dinner, perhaps?

Encourage exploration

Different Pokémon are found in different kinds of environments, so those found near water are different than those found on busy streets or near forests. Pokémon collectors need to venture beyond their usual haunts if they want to complete their collection. Health promoters can encourage people to use this opportunity to find and appreciate new features of their community. I'd like to see community walking tours that encompass local spots of interest both real and Pokémon-related.

Encourge the social elements

You can't trade Pokémon (yet), but if you want to learn some of the finer points of playing or if you want to know where you can catch a particular kind of Pokémon, you're going to need to go out and walk around, and you're also going to have to talk to other players. It's too soon for proper research, but anecdotal evidence suggests some people with autism or depression have been deriving benefits from walking and from Pokémon-related socializing. (You can go to spots called "gyms" to battle other players' Pokémons as well, which might be considered another social element of the game, but that part is less potentially health-promoting!)

It's easy for health promoters to disparage screens and video games, and sometimes we do so out of habit. I'd suggest we take a closer look at the assets Pokémon Go gives us to work with and see where it takes us.

Besides, it's kind of fun.

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Webinar recap: new technology trends, tools, and applications

By Robyn Kalda, HC Link

Star Wars Day (May the 4th Be With You), seemed like a good day for a webinar on new technology trends and uses and some health promotion implications. As health promoters, we like to be sure we stay on the light side of the Force, and to do that we need to think about new technology as it develops as well as paying attention to research findings about the best ways existing technologies are used.

I discussed trends in new technology generally, including the Internet of Things, wearable technology, virtual reality / augmented reality, and the growth of the Internet as a shrinking collection of walled gardens.

Design trends I mentioned included the massive growth in mobile traffic, leading to trends such as responsive design (where the various parts of the page display differently depending on the size of your screen) and infinite scrolling (endless webpages that keep loading content, such as your Facebook homepage); the tendency for design to now be slightly less "flat" than has been the trend for the past few years; the increased use and acceptability of images and video; and the inclusion of nonstandard interface controls such as sideways scrolling (instead of the usual vertical scrolling).

I encouraged health promoters not to ignore the world of apps, which suffers from the same content-quality controls as the rest of the Internet. Whether we choose to create our own apps or whether we choose to help highlight the pros and cons of various existing apps, health promoters can play a useful role.

While research on social media has challenges -- by the time you conduct and publish your research, the technology has probably changed -- I discussed some findings from existing studies and reviews.

One main finding is that two-way communication in any kind of health promotion social media effort is critical for success. Just putting information out there is not enough.

Another main finding is that while many studies have assessed the reach of social media -- and of course it can be very good at expanding an intervention's reach -- many fewer have assessed behaviour change. However, one meta-review did find no negative behaviour changes occurred as a result of social media interventions, so at the very least we can be reasonably sure we are not causing harm.

HC Link has a number of resources on social media including policy and plan outlines, a starter sheet to fill out before you set up a social media account, and a communications inventory to help you figure out what you already have that you might effectively repurpose with social media.

You can view the webinar recording and download the accompanying handout on our webinar archive page.

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Celebrate Bell Let’s Talk Day with a Framework for Positive Mental Health!

By Monica Nunes, CAMH


January 27th marks the sixth annual Bell Let’s Talk Day. On this day, for every text message, wireless and long distance call made by Bell Canada customers, as well as every tweet using #BellLetsTalk and every Facebook share of the Bell Let’s Talk Day image at, Bell will donate 5 cents to support Canadian mental health programs. Bell Let’s Talk Day has made it possible to discuss mental illness in a way that reduces stigma and gather funds to support an array of initiatives.


Bell Let’s Talk Day is also a time to reflect on mental health as a positive concept that is distinct from mental illness. The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) defines mental health as “the capacity of each and all of us to feel, think, and act in ways that enhance our ability to enjoy life and deal with the challenges we face”.  In line with this definition, PHAC just launched its Positive Mental Health Surveillance Indicator Framework (PMHSIF). This framework provides:

  • A picture of the state of positive mental health and its determinants in Canada.
  • A core set of indicators grouped by outcomes and four key domains: individual, family, community and society level determinants.
  • A link to a PMHSIF data tool that allows for pan-Canadian estimates and data breakdown for adults aged 18 and older by key demographic and socioeconomic variables for each of the measures within the Framework.
  • A structure for positive mental health surveillance data that will help inform mental health promotion programs and policies across the life course.  

Mental health is a multifaceted topic and the PMHSIF can be one tool to discuss the components of  positive mental health on Bell Let’s Talk Day! You can also check out the links below for other resources to inform your conversations.
CAMH Website:
CAMH will participate and support various events and activities to celebrate Bell Let’s Talk Day. You can also follow CAMH on Twitter @CAMHNews for related updates.

CAMH Health Promotion Resource Centre Website:

CAMH Health Promotion Resource Centre (CAMH HPRC) is Ontario's source for health promotion evidence regarding mental health and substance use. CAMH HPRC has a variety of resources on its website to support public health and allied health professionals to impact local and system-level practice, planning and policy around mental health promotion. 

Portico Network:

Supported by Bell Let’s Talk, CAMH recently launched Portico, an online interactive platform that connects health and community service providers to the latest clinical tools, resources and information about treating mental illness and addiction, and a Psychiatry in Primary Care app. 

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Harnessing Sports as a way to Decrease Substance Abuse in Youth

By Chidinma Nwakalor, Co-op student, Parent Action on Drugs

Youth involvement in sports is often seen as an avenue for positive youth development. Interestingly, the age at which participation in sports is highest among teenagers is also the age at which most teenagers will begin experimenting with substances. This, coupled with the fact that sport participation in school decreases the tendency of illicit substance use in youth, indicates an opportunity to harness sports as a way to decrease substance use among teenagers in Canada.

A recent resource created by the Canadian Center for Substance Abuse (CCSA) suggests that youth participation in sport might be a useful way to prevent illicit drug use (eg. marijuana, cocaine, hallucinogens and prescription pills) among youth. However, the report shows that the relationship between sports and substance use is variable. For example, in-school sport participation under the supervision of a coach was associated with decreased substance use overall, while in-school sport participation without a coach was associated with increased alcohol use but decreased use of marijuana and other illicit drugs such as cocaine. Furthermore, out-of-school sport participation was associated with an increased tendency to use marijuana among youth. These findings suggest that youth engagement in sports is best when it is within a school environment and under the supervision of a coach.

The review also recognized that youth who participated in sports were more likely to have better self-esteem, which is related to decreased use of alcohol and other substances among youth. Carefully designed sport programs in schools may be a good way to promote the protective effects of self-esteem for substance use in youth populations. Increasing consciousness and knowledge about the interplay of participation in sports and substance use is important to ensure that the full benefits of sport participation are realized and that the risks are reduced to a minimum.

The full resource created by the Canadian Center for Substance Use and the primary references can be found at

This post was also published on PAD’s website.

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The "Crushed Challenge"

by Suzanne Schwenger
On October 29 Gillian bravely volunteered to demonstrate an activity used by the Sudbury and District Health Unit (SDHU) to attract media attention and raise awareness about low-risk drinking guidelines.
Gillian - mocktail challenge
This activity was called the "Crushed Challenge", and was like a reality TV show where three contestants took a mystery ingredient (in this case ginger) and had to create a mocktail (non-alcoholic cocktail) which was then tasted by three judges!The mocktails were judged on appearance, originality, taste and best use of mystery ingredients.
Gillian's mocktail, called Spiky Cheer, came in a close second place.  We were all treated to a mocktail of our own in a special shot glass to measure alcohol portions.
Mocktail Measure
The presentation also demonstrated the 'Pour Challenge' and talked about a Pairings Event which paired mocktails with local fresh food at a restaurant. All three activities generated a lot of news media coverage--which was all part of the strategy.
Congrats to Gillian and way to go SDHU for innovative ways to raise awareness!
Health Nexus' Best Start Resource Centre also has a Mocktail resource: Mocktails for Mom, available in English and French. See Best Start’s Alcohol and Drugs page to download or to order.
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Today is Bike to Work Day!

Although many HC Link staff cycle for much or all of the year, it's nice to take time on Bike to Work day to celebrate our favourite mode of transportation. I asked a few HC Link staff and other colleagues for a few comments.

Toronto has several group rides that head downtown from various parts of the city, ending at City Hall for a pancake breakfast. Those festivities start too early for my night-owl habits, but lots of HC Link staff will be there.

What will you be doing for Bike to Work day?

Alison Stirling says: I'll be at CPHA in Vancouver this year and not on a bike! But if I were in Toronto, I would be riding my bike to work and all other parts.
Sam: I'm going to bike to work. Unless it's really pouring rain.
Sara: On Bike to Work day I will be riding with the pack and loving every moment of it.
Andrea: I will be biking to work- first ride of the season as I have been quite sick over the winter. I can't wait!
Amanda: I will be commuting into Toronto on the GO train...I would rather be biking but it`s too far!
Lisa B: I will definitely be biking to work and I am planning on attending the Bike to Work Day Group Commute & Pancake Breakfast at Nathan Phillips Square.

One of the advantages of living in Toronto is its transit system -- our buses, streetcars, subways, intercity trains, and ferries. Of course we all love to complain about it, but it gives us options that just don't exist in some other parts of Ontario. If the weather is bad or if we're tired or ill, we don't have to ride our bikes or resort to car travel.

How do you usually get to work?

Lisa B: I commute to work by bike in spring, summer, and fall weather permitting. If it is raining or too cold I take the TTC. I now work at PAD and bike from High Park to north of Keele and Wilson! I ride on main streets with heavy traffic but go out of my way to stay off of Keele, the ride takes me about 45 minutes each way.
Alison: To get to work I take my bike on the Toronto Island ferry and then head up Bay Street if I am in a hurry or further west to Simcoe where there's a bike lane -- a much safer way to go.
Sara: I usually walk, TTC or ride depending on the weather and my body.
Sam: Bicycle! Mostly main streets, like Bathurst and Bloor
Andrea: Usually I bike from March to December and take public transit the rest of the time. The nice things about public transit are that a) I live in a city with public transit and b) that it allows me to "bookend" transit trips with walking. The not-so-nice thing is how crowded it is. Biking is THE BEST way to get to work!

Once people start cycling, it's hard to get them to stop. But getting people to start can be challenging: it can seem scary and intimidating to put your small, squishy, un-armored self out there in traffic with large metal boxes on wheels.

Joanne: I just got a bike -- it's my mom's old bike. I think it has 21 gears. I just need to work up the nerve to ride it to work! I've never ridden in the city.

Matthuschka: I'd have to work my way up to it. We can get down to the waterfront easily but not into the core.

Remember, though, that downtown traffic moves quite slowly much of the time, so the speed differential between bikes and cars is very low. In fact, cyclists typically find they're faster from point A to point B than a car making the same trip.

What would you say to non-cyclists on Bike to Work day?

Sara: I would tell non-riders that riding in the city is not as scary as many believe. The benefits of riding extend beyond improving your mental and physical health, it is also great for getting to know your city, for reducing emissions and saving money. As well, the more cyclists there are, the better cars will get at sharing the road. Join the fun!
Alison: Try it, you'll like it! Cycling is fun, fast and a healthy way to get around.
Sam: since you have to go to work anyway you might as well exercise and get there for free!
Matthuschka: support the bike to work movement! even if you can't, make it so others can. If it's fear, then find ways to get over that fear -- work on creating a safe bike network in the core of the city.
Andrea: I'd say: be brave and give it a try. Bike to Work day is a great day to try it out especially if there is a group bike happening. Also the pancakes at City Hall are delicious. But really: map out your route and try it on a weekend; pay attention and be safe and: most importantly have an awesome ride!
Amanda: Share the road! Biking is fun and great exercise.
Lisa B: I would say try cycling! Especially if you live and work in the downtown core, it is not nearly as intimidating as you might think and a great way to get some fresh air and physical activity.

Want to give it a try? Here are a few resources to help you get started:

Yvonne Bambrick's book The urban cycling survival guide : need-to-know skills and strategies for biking in the city. Yvonne headed up Cycle Toronto for several years and is a sane, calm, and encouraging voice for beginning city riders.

The City of Toronto runs CAN-Bike courses which cover both the legal and practical issues involved in city riding.

Cycle Toronto has a Start Cycling site ( with stories and tips for new cyclists. Through Cycle Toronto you can keep up to date on cycling initiatives across Toronto or you can connect with your Ward group for more local updates.

Happy cycling!

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March 2 Health in All Policies Forum

On March 2, over 30 people from around Ontario met at the lovely Ontario Heritage Trust building in downtown Toronto to talk about Health in All Policies.

Karen Loney from Chatham-Kent Public Health Unit was our MC for the day, moving the group through introductory presentations by Andrea Bodkin (HC Link Coordinator), who talked about the HC Link Policy Learning Community, and Kim Bergeron (Public Health Ontario), who gave an introduction to the Health in all Policies concept. photo 3

Presentations on specific Health in All Policies work followed. Tanya Hill from Hastings & Prince Edward Counties Health Unit, Karen Loney, Andrea Bodkin gave examples of work from different areas and discussed the challenges inherent in developing policies that affect health but that are outside the traditional bounds of what people think of as "health" -- urban planning, for example. 

Small-group and then large-group discussions gave participants a chance to discuss how they are using, or could use, Health in All Policies in their work.

As always, there were discussions about language. Are there better words to use than "health"? Does "wellness" perhaps make it clearer that we're talking beyond the health-care system? Is using "citizen" exclusionary in policy development work? While it can be a strong reminder to politicians about where their support is found, the group suggested "residents" or just plain "people" as more inclusive options.

In the afternoon Kim Bergeron, Lorna McCue (Ontario Healthy Communities Coalition/HC Link), and michael kerr (Colour of Poverty - Colour of Change) presented tools and resources they found helpful.

The last session was a short focus group session on the HC Link Policy Learning Community now and in future.

To end the day, attendees each offered a one-word summary of their thoughts. A few of these reflective words:

  • engagement
  • collaboration
  • rural
  • complexity
  • language
  • multi-sectoral collaboration
  • reframing
  • opportunities
  • challenges

The slides and other resources have now been posted on the HC Link Policy Learning Community discussion group - see here Additional resources are posted as replies to the initial “Health in All Policies Forum Resources” discussion forum, so keep scrolling down to see everything.

Thanks to all attendees for their insight and enthusiasm!

You will need to be a member of the HC Link Policy Learning Community to add comments or contribute your own links and resources.

Join the HC Link Policy Learning Community 

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Questions people are asking about social media

By Robyn Kalda, HC Link

Social media has been a popular topic for HC Link webinars, consultations and workshops this year in both English and French and we're seeing some interesting trends.

There are starting to be three levels of questions about social media, now that it's been around for some years.

First, there are the how-to and what-is-it questions. How do I set up a Facebook or Twitter account? How do I post? What's Instagram/Pinterest/Vine? What is an app and how do I get one? What new things are out there?

Second, there are questions about how to use social media tools effectively. Which tool is best for my purposes? How often should I tweet? What does the research say: is social media a good tool for making a difference? Who should run our Facebook page? Should I use my real name for my work posts?

Finally, there are some more overarching questions. What's the best way to realize the advantages of technology without being constantly attached to it? What are the best times to use social media with parents so that you'll reach them but won't distract them from their children at times they are likely to be parenting? Given the 24/7 nature of social media, how can we be effective online without worsening people's work/life balance? How much sense does it make to redeploy staff time into social media at, perhaps, some cost to face-to-face services?

As health promoters, it's important to pay attention to all three kinds of questions. It's no use to know about all the technologies that are out there but remain oblivious to the larger questions around their healthy use. It's also no help to ignore technology on the pretext of concerns about its use. There are no clear answers to the big-picture questions yet, but health promoters need to be part of the discussion.

For social media resources, you can check out:

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The Canadian Index of Wellbeing: Shifting the Conversation

By Gillian Kranias, HC Link

How do we shift the conversation - and the measurements – to really notice and foster wellbeing in our communities? Community Health Centres (CHCs) across Ontario, in collaboration with their Association of Ontario Health Centres, have taken bold and creative leadership on this topic, adopting and experimenting with the Canadian Index of Wellbeing (CIW).

On Wednesday July 23, four CHCs shared their stories of adopting and experimenting with the Canadian Index of Wellbeing.

  • From Woodstock we learned how CIW fostered a "twinning" between public knowledge and expert knowledge.

  • From Woolwich we heard a story of how research with CIW's community vitality domain led to one new initiative supporting volunteer development at CHC partner organizations and another that will enhance welcoming activities for newcomers.

  • From Bourget, we gained mid-project insights on just how important each methodological choice can be along the way (and how early adopters must be adapters too!)

  • From Ottawa, we were inspired by a city-wide coalition that will use key CIW findings to inform and enhance civic engagement initiatives.

What we learned from the combined presentations was:

  • The CIW is a multi-purpose tool! ...and seeing others using the tool is a great way to build one's own capacity and confidence to do it yourself (DIY).
  • There are limitations with this tool – like any. It was great that the speakers were willing to articulate those limitations. With more information, we will know better how to meet some of them.
  • The language of CIW is as valuable as the indicators. Several stories spoke to how it fostered bridges across organizations and sectors, and most importantly between expert knowledge and community-based knowledge.

You can watch the videos yourself to take away your own learnings. You can also use these videos in conversation with your community. You can even join in "shifting the conversation" - check out AOHC's website for more resources.

At HC Link, we celebrate the collaborative leadership of Ontario organizations and communities who are ushering the Canadian Index of Wellbeing in to our ways of conversing, measuring, celebrating and acting: for healthier communities for everyone.

Here are some links to earlier dissemination events where HC Link partnered with AOHC:

The CIW Early Adopter story video footage was recorded at AOHC's Summer Institute titled "Community Health and Wellbeing: Moving from Information to Transformation" held in Orillia on July 23, 2014. This event was co-hosted with the Simcoe County Resilience Collaborative.

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New Drug Use Data for Ontario Students: Smoking, Binge Drinking and Driving after Cannabis Use are Areas of Concerns

New Drug Use Data for Ontario Students: Smoking, Binge Drinking and Driving after Cannabis Use are Areas of Concerns

Submitted by Linda Yoo and Monica Nunes, CAMH Health Promotion Resource Centre

Understanding health needs is essential for shaping programming and policy making in public health and health promotion. For some time the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health's Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey (OSDUHS), the longest ongoing school survey of adolescents in Canada, has provided data to describe student health needs in the area of drug use and guide substance misuse prevention across Ontario. This week, the CAMH Health Promotion Resource Centre was in attendance for the release of findings of the OSDUHS's Drug Use among Ontario Students report. At this launch, the OSDUHS research team highlighted overall student drug use trends, several positive findings, and findings of public health concern. In addition to reviewing these highlights below, you can also read the full report online.

Overall student drug use trends

  1. No drug monitored showed significant increase in use compared to the 2011 OSDUHS results.
  2. Three drug use measures showed decreases between 2011 and 2013:
    • Alcohol fell from 55% in 2011 to 50% in 2013
    • High-caffeine energy drinks fell from 50% in 2011 to 40% in 2013
    • Inhalants use fell from 6% in 2011 to 3% in 2013
  3. Alcohol remains the most common drug used by students in the past year.
  4. OSDUHS has begun tracking two new synthetic drugs.
    • The OSDUHS research team began tracking 2 new synthetics drugs, synthetic cannabis (aka K2 or spice) and Methoxetamine (aka "MXE" or mket"), in addition to the synthetic substances mephedrone ("bath salts") and BZP (benzylpiperazine pills) that were tracked in 2011.
    • Although use of the latter three substances is minimal, synthetic cannabis has been used by 2%, or about 17 300 students in the past year which suggests a need for monitoring given the adverse of effects of synthetic cannabis.

Positive Findings

  1. In addition to the steady decrease in alcohol use, driving after drinking is on a downward trend.
  2. Illicit drug use is also on a downward trend for substances such as cannabis, hallucinogens, cocaine, methamphetamines, amphetamines, and so on.
  3. Prevention programs which aim to delay initiation of substance use have shown progress. For example, students today use substances starting at an older age.

Public Health Concerns

  1. A significant number of students are still smoking or using tobacco.
    • 1 in 10, or about 83,000, students report smoking in the past year.
    • 10%, or about 88 400 students in Ontario, report the use of a waterpipe (hookah) in the past year.
  2. Students that drink alcohol are drinking in hazardous ways as shown by the increase in binge drinking.
    • One if five students reported binge drinking at least once during the month before the survey. This is a concern given the increased number of injuries associated with binge drinking and other related problems.
  3. More students are driving after cannabis use than after drinking alcohol.
    • 1 in 10 students report driving a vehicle within one hour of using cannabis at least once in the past year.
  4. Over-the-counter medications are the only drug that shows an increase in use since 1999.
    • 10% of students (about 94 100 students) reported using over-the-counter medications to get high in the past year.
    • The majority of students obtain the drug from someone at home.
  5. Nonmedical use of prescription opioid pain relievers remain an area of concern.
    • 12% of students (about 120 100 students in Ontario) report using a prescription opioid pain reliever nonmedically in the past year.

In the New Year, the CAMH Health Promotion Resource Centre will be hosting a webinar on how data is used to inform mental health and substance use related health promotion programming. As part of the webinar, the use of OSDUHS data will be highlighted with examples from the field of public health. Stay tuned for details!

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Agency: a follow-up to Crash! On how we need to change how we talk about car crashes

By: Robyn Kalda, HC Link

A couple of weeks ago, I published a blog post on the language we typically use when we describe car crashes (Crash! On how we need to change how we talk about car crashes), describing how it removes the driver from the action. In short, we make it sound like cars are running people over on their own accord, with hapless drivers along for the ride.

The post began some interesting discussions, and one key misunderstanding arose which I'd like to address here. People said (paraphrasing many comments) "well, we can't talk about the drivers because the court system hasn't established fault yet".

Of course we can. We can talk about agency without formally assigning fault. We do so all the time with all other kinds of accidents and crimes. Let's look at a couple of examples from different sources:

1. It is reported that a TTC employee was operating a bus when it stopped to let passengers off. Two men approached the doors of the bus and one of them then fired the BB gun, striking the driver in the arm. A 14-year old and 16-year old were arrested

Note here that it is not "a BB gun fired and struck the driver in the arm" but a person firing the BB gun who did the damage. Agency is assigned to "two men" -- unnamed, in the sentence that describes the crime, but definitely human. The gun did not act alone.

2. A 22-year-old man is facing a number of charges after a 27-year-old man was sent to hospital Sunday night after a stabbing

Again, nobody is accusing the knife of attacking the 27-year-old. Agency, rightly, is assigned to the 22-year-old man holding the knife. We can use the legal screen of leaving the potentially accused person unnamed, but we do not need to remove them entirely.

It ought to be the same with car crashes -- from an injury prevention point of view, it is key. Crashes happen because people do things, not because cars do things. If we're going to work on preventing crashes, we need to speak accurately when we describe them. It is very possible to keep the driver in the scene without assigning fault, just as we keep the people in the scene when we describe other accidents and crimes. You'll recognize the formula from other news reports: "[A vaguely-described person] was driving a car when [something bad happened]. ... Charged is Ms So-and-so, 56, of Some Street." We're not saying it was Ms So-and-So's fault, precisely, but we *are* saying there was a driver, not just a car. Do you see the difference?

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Crash! On how we need to change how we talk about car crashes

By Robyn Kalda, HC Link


Car Crash

Today I'd like to highlight a particularly interesting and unhelpful form of language that affects how we think about car crashes -- a major cause of mortality in Canada, and an area ripe for health promotion and injury prevention work.

Let's look at the following reports from a variety of news outlets. I've chosen these fairly randomly -- they are very typical examples:

1. "The investigation revealed that the car had been travelling west on Hillsview Rd. when it entered the north ditch and rolled onto its' [sic] roof." 

2. "Police say that a white Toyota was driving southbound on Markham Rd. and was hit by a red northbound Toyota as the latter made a left-hand turn onto Elson St. The white vehicle ricocheted onto the sidewalk, striking the pedestrians." 

3. "Toronto police say a man is dead after his car plunged into a pit at a west-end construction site this morning. Police say the car went through the fence surrounding the site (on Joe Shuster Way near King and Dufferin streets) and into the pit, which is roughly two storeys deep."

4. "A rollover claimed the life of a woman in her 20s as she walked her dog on Thornhill Woods Drive in Vaughan. After striking the woman, the vehicle continued off the roadway, struck several trees, drove over a hydro box and then came to rest after flipping several times."

The big question for me when I look at these reports: where are the drivers? Why are all these cars behaving so very badly, all on their own? There's a passivity and lack of agency in the language here that I think is very problematic. If it's the cars themselves that are causing all these crashes, then in our minds the drivers are just along for the ride. And when pedestrians fail to leap out of the way of errant automobiles, it must somehow be the pedestrian's fault.

In New York, the police have begun to change their minds on this issue. While they used to feel "There's no criminality. ... That's why they call it an accident," they're now changing their policy to refer to "collisions' instead of "accidents". Indeed a "collision" sounds much less passive than an "accident". But if we are going to make a serious attempt at reducing crashes, I think we need to put the responsibility for the crash firmly back where it belongs -- in the vast majority of cases, on the driver -- and so we should start describing crashes differently.

In the early 20th century when cars were a new invention, crashes were described more accurately. Sarah Goodyear wrote an excellent summary of this in her piece "The Invention of Jaywalking". Drivers whose cars killed other drivers, passengers or pedestrians were charged with "technical manslaughter" or a similar quite serious charge. These days you're more likely to get an inexpensive ticket and perhaps a couple of demerit points.

The news article that really brought this issue to the fore for me was this one:

An accident on Lake Shore Blvd. W. on Wednesday afternoon that left 10 people injured and downtown traffic snarled past rush hour is a tragic reminder of the importance of road awareness. Two vehicles smashed into each other and then into a group of people and a lamp post at the intersection at about 1:20 p.m. ...
On Lake Shore, "you're very much part of the intersection," [Const. Hugh] Smith said, and it's crucial for people to be watching traffic at all times in case they need to act quickly to protect themselves."

To be clear, six pedestrians were standing -- quite legally -- on the sidewalk at an intersection. The driver of one car made an illegal maneuver at high speed, thus crashing his/her (the driver's name is not even mentioned) car into another car, thus causing both cars to career at high speed up over the sidewalk and into the six pedestrians. And it's somehow the pedestrians' fault for having insufficient "road awareness" and not being able to "act quickly to protect themselves"? (The poor lamp post; I suppose it was at fault for not moving also.)

This is not a helpful way of thinking.

Let's rewrite the examples above to reflect agency more accurately:

1. "The investigation revealed that the car had been travelling west on Hillsview Rd. when it entered the north ditch and rolled onto its' [sic] roof."

While travelling west on Hillsview Rd, Mr/Ms So-and-so drove his/her car into the north ditch and rolled it onto its roof.

2. "Police say that a white Toyota was driving southbound on Markham Rd. and was hit by a red northbound Toyota as the latter made a left-hand turn onto Elson St. The white vehicle ricocheted onto the sidewalk, striking the pedestrians."

Mr/Ms So-and-so, driving a red Toyota northbound on Markham Rd., turned left into Mr/Ms OtherPerson's southbound white Toyota at Elson Ave., ricocheting the white car into a group of pedestrians on the sidewalk.

3. "Toronto police say a man is dead after his car plunged into a pit at a west-end construction site this morning. Police say the car went through the fence surrounding the site (on Joe Shuster Way near King and Dufferin streets) and into the pit, which is roughly two storeys deep."

Toronto police say a man is dead after he drove his car through a fence surrounding a construction site (on Joe Shuster Way near King and Dufferin streets) and down into a two-storey-deep construction pit.

4. "A rollover claimed the life of a woman in her 20s as she walked her dog on Thornhill Woods Drive in Vaughan. After striking the woman, the vehicle continued off the roadway, struck several trees, drove over a hydro box and then came to rest after flipping several times."

An elderly driver struck and killed a woman in her 20s as she walked her dog on Thornhill Woods Drive in Vaughan. After striking the woman, Mr./Ms. So-and-so continued off the roadway, struck several trees, drove over a hydro box and then flipped the car several times.


I've made a conscious habit of mentally rephrasing crash reports in this way -- and virtually all of them need it. Keep an eye out and try it yourself!

I think changing the language around this is an important injury prevention measure. We can't effectively work on preventing, changing or mitigating an issue until we can talk about it in a clear way, and in a way that puts the responsibility for the problem in the right place.

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In the News - February 2012

This is the first in a series of posts highlighting what's been in the news on various topics of interest to HC Link and anyone interested in Healthy Communities Fund priorities. I may not cover all priorities in each post -- it will vary depending on what's in the news.


Substance and Alcohol Misuse

The big story of the past while has been Ontario's decision to de-list OxyContin, a prescription painkiller, from the drug benefit program because it is commonly abused. OxyContin's new replacement, OxyNEO, designed to be harder to abuse (it resists crushing and so on) was also delisted. Several other provinces have followed suit.

The theory is that this will make it harder for people to acquire the drug, as presumably fewer pills will be prescribed and therefore in circulation. However, high addiction levels in some populations have some people worried about mass withdrawal or whether those populations will simply turn to alternative, potentially even more dangerous drugs.

Sample news stories:

Other substance- and alcohol-related health promotion news:

Mental Health / Mental Health Promotion

Some initial studies suggest ketamine might work very quickly on some people's depression:

Other mental health / mental health promotion stories of interest:


Injury Prevention

Aside from the usual raft of warnings and food/toy recalls this month, there's been increasing attention paid to concussions:

Other injury prevention stories:

And my favourite thought-provoking piece this month:


Healthy eating

No major stories recently, but here are a few interesting bits:


Physical activity, sports and recreation

Winter doesn't seem to be a prime time for stories in this area. Still, some items of interest:


And last, some light amusement:

A.J. Jacobs: How healthy living nearly killed me

"For a full year, A.J. Jacobs followed every piece of health advice he could -- from applying sunscreen by the shot glass to wearing a bicycle helmet while shopping. Onstage at TEDMED, he shares the surprising things he learned."



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Past webinar: Physical Activity 101 (Webinar In French)

On February 15th, HC link hosted a French webinar, which was presented by PARC. This webinar was an introduction to physical activity promotion: a tour through the new Physical Activity Guidelines and the support available through PARC.

PARC was established in 2003 and is managed by Ophea. PARC supports physical activity promoters and key community leaders working in public health, community health centres, recreation and sport organizations, and non-government organizations to enhance opportunities for healthy active living in Ontario.

For information on this webinar and the discussion that took place (in French), please see our Réseau CS blog.

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