Nova Scotia

Feds chip in $5M to fund Dalhousie-led health initiative at 360 schools

The funding is expected to last five years for a program that promotes healthy eating and exercise at 360 schools in Nova Scotia.

'Let's change the culture and make healthy behaviour the norm,' says Uplift co-creator Sara Kirk

Dalhousie University researcher Sara Kirk, co-creator of the youth health initiative Uplift, says the aim of the program is 'embedding health into the way we do things.' (Craig Paisley/CBC)

Ottawa is giving a Nova Scotia-based program $5 million to promote healthy eating and exercise in 360 schools across the province.

Federal Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor announced the funding at West Highlands Elementary School in Amherst, N.S., on Friday.

The money, from the Public Health Agency of Canada, along with $2.65 million already raised by the the Dalhousie Medical Research Foundation and the QEII Foundation, is expected to keep the initiative going for five years.

The foundations are expected to raise another $2.35 million, to match the contribution from Canadian taxpayers.

Dalhousie University researcher Sara Kirk, co-creator of the youth health initiative Uplift, said the aim of the program is "embedding health into the way we do things."

Federal Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor tries her hand at hoop hop. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

"Children and youth in this province are not active enough, they're not eating healthy and those things are actually going to cause health problems later in life," she said.

"Let's switch that around, let's change the culture and make healthy behaviour the norm."

How the initiative works

The plan is to hire 15 youth engagement co-ordinators to travel from school to school to find, train and support students as "change agents" in their communities.

Those students, working with their peers, will come up with specific ideas or projects that promote exercise or healthy eating in their schools.

Ideas include planting school gardens, allowing students to choose how they want to sit or stand in class and mapping out safe cycling routes to and from school.

"This is not rocket science," said Kirk. "We are looking at something that we really should be able to do much better than we do."

According to Kirk, there are also benefits for teachers in the classroom because healthy and nourished kids learn better.

Healthy lifestyle ideas include planting school gardens, allowing students to choose how they want to sit or stand in class and mapping out safe cycling routes to and from school. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

Longer-term funding for Uplift is also a plus.

"It's not a thing coming in and it will go out again, it's about a change in philosophy, a change in mindset, a change in culture so that health becomes more of a priority amongst our children and youth, their families and the community," said Kirk.

"We'll know that its successful when we have better health outcomes amongst our children and youth."

Possible expansion beyond Nova Scotia

Although the program is only available in Nova Scotia, the health minister is considering making it available elsewhere

"Wouldn't it be great if we could see this program nationally?" said Petitpas Taylor. "So, let's wait to see what the results are."

Dalhousie researchers have begun to gather data on the health of children and youth in the province and will continue that process over the life of the program to gauge its effectiveness.

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