Blog

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!

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Make a New (school) Year’s Resolution to Promote Active Transportation in Your Community

By Christine Morrison, HC Link

A new school year offers a new beginning; a chance to make changes.

While tackling the growing challenge of childhood obesity is complex, many communities are working together to promote active transportation options for school children.

activetranso

(Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/clarkmaxwell/4958612436/in/photostream/)

According to the 2012 Public Health Agency of Canada report, Curbing Childhood Obesity; A Federal, Provincial and Territorial Framework for Action to Promote Healthy Weights, between 1978 and 2004 the combined prevalence of overweight and obese children aged 2 to 17 years nearly doubled, from 15% to 26%.

This trend is not surprising when you consider that physical activity levels in children start to decline as early as age 3. In fact, by the time they start school, less than 20% of children are getting the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity each day.

Not only are children not getting the recommended amount of daily physical activity, sedentary behaviours are increasing. A University of Toronto study, based on the Transportation for Tomorrow Survey, found that between 1986 and 2011, the number of 11- to 17-year-olds who walked or rode a bike to school decreased by 12.9%. Over the same period of time, the percentage of children who rode to school in a car more than doubled, from 14% to 33%.

The reliance on inactive and sedentary modes of transportation has earned Canada a D grade on active transportation, according to the latest participACTION report card.

Communities across the country and around the world have been working together to turn the trip to school into an opportunity to boost physical activity among children. As communities, we can work together to create more walkable neighbourhoods that are designed to encourage kids to move and be physically active.

Trottibus Walking School Bus
In April 2016, the Commission scolaire de Montréal adopted a charter to promote active transportation. Small wonder then, that they also introduced the Trottibus in May of 2016. The Trottibus Walking School Bus, developed by the Canadian Cancer Society, is a pedestrian bus that allows elementary school kids to walk to school safely. Trained volunteers accompany children along a planned route with scheduled stops. Various schools across Quebec are participating in the program and parents can register their children online.

Travelwise schools
Since 2005 Travelwise has been working with schools in New Zealand to create individualized Safe School Travel Plans. Plans are multifaceted and typically include road safety education, traffic calming, promotional activities that encourage walking and cycling, walking school buses and parking restrictions. Today, more than 250,000 students are involved in the program and 12,736 car trips are taken off the road during peak morning traffic.

Active & Safe Routes to School
The Walk/Wheel on Wednesdays program offers families the opportunity to slowly break the driving habit by providing a designated day (either once a week or once a month) to explore active alternatives for getting to school.

With the new school year just days away, there is still time to make a change and develop active, healthy habits to last a lifetime.

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Water Does Wonders in Humber-Downsview

HC Link is proud to be a part of the Healthy Kids Community Challenge (HKCC) by supporting the 45 participating communities across Ontario. The current theme that HKCC communities are supporting right now is “Water Does Wonders”, which emphasizes choosing water over sugar sweetened beverages. Many of the communities are involved in activities that promote water consumption, such as providing refillable water bottles, community swims, and refill stations. In this post, Myriam Castilla, Local Project Manager for Toronto-Humber-Downsview, shares how they are incorporating Water Does Wonders into their local work.

I am eager to share with all of you one of the exciting Water does Wonders activities that is happening here in the Humber-Downsview community.

Annually, from the first week of July to the third week of August, the Youth Association for Academics Athletics and Character Education (YAAACE), runs a Summer Institute camp for 400 children from the Humber-Downsview community. Most of these children belong to the City of Toronto Neighborhood Investment Areas where a large amount of the population experiences high levels of inequity and poor health.

This year, in partnership with HKCC, YAAACE decided to adopt HKCC’s theme "Water does Wonders" as a main subject for their Summer Institute. The curriculum for this camp was developed to promote Water does Wonders message; 25 teachers were trained on HKCC’s objectives, principles, and strategies to promote water intake; and 50 youth staff were trained on water facts and strategies to promote healthy drink choices among children.

In addition, YAAACE adopted a Healthy Eating policy; which includes having servings of fruits and vegetables in their lunches and snacks, and that only tap water is available during camp’s activities. To re-enforce this message, all sugary drinks were removed from vending machines in their premises.

What is unique about YAAACE’s initiatives is that this community organization uses an innovative social inclusion model to support children and youth from low income communities to grow, learn and play in an environment that is responsive and supportive of their needs, interests, expectations, and aspirations. It offers access to programs that integrate academic, athletic, social and artistic activities through school, after school programs, weekend programs, and camps. 

YAAACE’s academic activities target students who fall below the provincial standards in literacy and in numeracy due to multiple factors, including exposure to violence or trauma. To ensure child success, with the support of mentors, YAAACE’s programs coordinate with children’s schools and caregivers.

We are thrilled because of the impact of the Summer Institute in this community; the key messages of Water does Wonders has been widely disseminated, and 400 children are receiving the messages in a culturally relevant form, and clearly changing their behavior towards enjoying drinking tap water and eating more fruits and vegetables.

WDW 1

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A few words in favour of Pokémon Go

By Robyn Kalda, HC Link Consultant

pokemongo
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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The Wake-up Call on Children & Youths Physical Activity Levels

By Christine Nhan, Health Nexus Summer Student

Overtime there has been a significant decrease in physical activity by children and youth. This is a statement that many of us are well aware of and educated on. Study after study have been conducted, each continuously feeding us the same dangerous results; type 2 diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, the list goes on.

participactionreportcard
Recently, participACTION has released their 2016 report card on physical activity for children and youth. Rather than delivering the same information that much of the public is already educated on, they shined a new light on a contributing factor for this health concern. What they believe will be the wakeup call for Canadians.

Instead of strictly focusing on physical activities, emerging studies have taken a step back to look at the bigger picture. Through this new lens a vicious cycle has been identified between one’s sedentary, sleep and physical behaviour. As written in the report, those who are tired out from physical activities will sleep better, and those who sleep less will be too tired for physical activities. This relationship may seem like common sense, however the report also shares some not so obvious effects of sleep deprivation in children.

Over many years now, the public has been repeatedly educated on the true dangers of low physical activity levels. To work towards a more active lifestyle, interventions varying in methods and sizes have been implemented. I recall in elementary school the “Walk across Canada” program was initiated to encourage students to walk more. It was based on a reward system, in which students were given coloured feet charms for every milestone distance achieved. This method of intervention resulted in young children having more motivation to participate in physical activity.

Although many of these interventions have had a positive impact on their communities, obstacles such as technology and restricting circumstances have made the suggested solutions much more difficult to carry out. Technology is a specific contributor that has had a large impact on physical activity. As the amount of time spent participating in physical activity decreases, the time spent using technology has increased. Much concern has been raised, and as a result participACTION has recommended no more than two hours of screen time per day.

I believe an effective approach towards this specific challenge is through the concept of integration. By placing a healthy spin on time consuming technology, physical activity can be integrated into the recommended screen time and essentially decrease one’s sedentary behaviour. A prime example of this integrated approach would be the release of Pokemon Go or Wii Fit. Pokemon Go has especially played as a game changer and unintentionally evolved into a public health service. The trending game is entirely based on people walking to different locations in order to move onto the next level, thus promoting physical activity.

Daily circumstances also give rise to obstacles when wanting to carry out the recommended solutions. The participACTION report card states that 43% of 16-17 year old Canadians are not getting enough sleep on weekdays. Speaking from my own personal experiences, countless of late nights were spent working on projects, assigned homework, or studying for a test. My workload during high school greatly contributed to my lack of sleep. I find that a common thread amongst these challenges is that many individuals disregard the long term consequences, such as being diagnosed with type two diabetes 10 plus years down the road, for the short term consequences, like receiving a bad grade, due to the immediate negative effects.

I truly believe it is important to educate and motivate children and youth to participate in physical activities. By starting healthy habits at a younger age, these habits can become ingrained into an individual’s daily routine. The Healthy Kids Community Challenge run by the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long Term Care is a recent initiative to help improve children’s health and well-being. HC Link is proud to be a part of this initiative, by supporting, in collaboration with our resource centre partners, the 45 participating communities.

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New CAMH Survey Results Show 10 Per Cent Increase in Psychological Distress among Ontario Students

By Monica Nunes, CAMH HPRC

 

OSDUHS changesThe Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) has just released its biannual report on student mental health and well-being in Ontario. The data derives from the 2015 edition of the Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey (OSDUHS), the longest running school survey of adolescents in Canada, and one of the longest-running surveys in the world.

The 2015 results show that more than one in three – an estimated 328,000 Ontario students in grades 7 to 12 report moderate-to-serious psychological distress, a 10 per cent jump since 2013. Girls are twice as likely as boys to experience psychological distress.

Other striking trends include:


Mental health

  • Seventeen per cent of students rate their mental health as fair or poor, a 6 per cent increase since 2013
  • The number of students prescribed medication for anxiety , depression or both in the previous year doubled since 2001
  • View an infographic on mental health trends 


Screen time and social media use

  • Overall, screen time and social media use is high. More than half (63 per cent) of students spend 3 or more hours per day in front of TV or tablet/computer in their free time.
  • Eighty-six per cent of students visit social media sites daily and 16 per cent spend five or more hours on social media per day
  • View an infographic on screen time and social media use trends


Video gaming

  • An estimated 122,600 (13 per cent) of students in Ontario report symptoms of a video gaming problem which includes associated preoccupation, loss of control, withdrawal and disregard for consequences
  • The percentage of students indicating a video gaming problem in 2015 (13 per cent) is significantly higher than the percentage in 2007 (9 per cent), the first year of monitoring
  • Problem video gaming is especially prevalent among boys (20 per cent) rather than girls (5 per cent)


The Provincial System Support Program and the Evidence Exchange Network (EENet) at CAMH have been maintaining a strong knowledge exchange partnership with the OSDUHS research team to share this evidence widely. Most recently, PSSP hosted the first webinar in a two part-series sharing the OSDUHS results on drug use among students which you can check out on EENet’s website. Part two of the webinar series is scheduled for October 5th from 11:00am-12:30pm and will focus on how program planners and policy makers use the OSDUHS data. Stay tuned for registration information! In the New Year, PSSP and EENet will also host webinars focusing on the mental health and well-being results.

Access the full OSDUHS mental health and well-being report: http://www.camh.ca/en/research/news_and_publications/ontario-student-drug-use-and-health-survey/Documents/2015%20OSDUHS%20Documents/2015OSDUHS_Detailed%20MentalHealthReport.pdf

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