With childhood obesity on the rise, a number of organizations are banding together to bring families a solution.
© Herald photo by Jodi Schellenberg
W.J. Berezowsky School students try out some MEND activities with the help of some of the program facilitators during the launch of the MEND program in Prince Albert on Tuesday.
On Tuesday, the MEND program -- Mind, Exercise, Nutrition, Do it -- was launched in Prince Albert during a presentation at W.J. Berezowsky School, with many special guests explaining the new program’s importance.
The program was able to expand to Prince Albert and other northern communities thanks to partnerships with the University of Saskatchewan, Sask Sport and the Saskatchewan Blue Cross, Saskatchewan MEND director of operations Linda Martin said.
“Together and with a combined spirit we share ideas and resources to improve the lives of people in our communities, our cities, our province and beyond,” Martin said. “Together we collaborate on solutions for problems that must be addressed.”
One of the biggest problems facing Saskatchewan families is the growing epidemic of childhood obesity, Martin said.
“Presently in Canada, more than a quarter of children ages 2-17 years are overweight or obese,” Martin said. “In Saskatchewan, the problem is even more pronounced where over 29 per cent of children within this age category are above a healthy weight.”
There are many problems that face overweight and obese children, in many different aspects of their lives -- physically, emotionally, socially and economically.
Obese children also have a higher chance of developing many diseases associated with obesity, including diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, stroke and some cancers.
The program was adapted to he needs of Saskatchewan families by the University of Saskatchewan’s College of Kinesiology, led by the dean Carol Rogers.
“Our college is committed to advancing the knowledge and participation in physical activity of all of Saskatchewan citizens,” Rogers said. “Today’s children, however, are at particular risk and we have seen some of the potential consequences of the type of lifestyle we are currently leading.
“If we stay this course, unfortunately children today might be the first generation to have the lifespan that does not exceed that our their parents,” she added. “Promoting healthy body weight and highlighting the importance or peak levels of physical activity are key components to help all of us reverse this trend together.”
MEND is one of the most successful and internationally recognized programs in the world with participants and the United Kingdom, Denmark, Australia, the United States and New Zealand.
“The mission of MEND is to inspire children, families and adults to lead and sustain fitter, healthier and happier lives by focusing on changing behaviours that cause obesity,” Rogers said. “The program is based on evidential research and involves a multifaceted approach that is community and family centred, utilizing the existing and social infrastructures with communities for their delivery.”
The program is split into two parts -- the first giving parents and children education on nutrition, portion size, motivation and goal setting and the second children participate together in a fun physical activity while parents discuss improving the health of their families.
“The College of Kinesiology is committed to this program, first and foremost for the betterment that it will provide to the youth of this province,” Rogers said. “It is also a wonderful opportunity for all of us to work together as a community to further the health of our province.”
Thanks to partnership with the Sask. Blue Cross and Sask Sport, the program can be offered free of charge to Saskatchewan families.
“Our vision at Saskatchewan Blue Cross is the health and wellness of Saskatchewan people,” said John Gormley, chairperson of the Corporate Social Responsibility Committee for the Saskatchewan Blue Cross Board. “About a decade ago, the board and management of Saskatchewan Blue Cross decided to maximize our social corporate responsibility by focusing on one underlying health issue facing everyone in Saskatchewan.”
They discovered that the good health of a society begins with active and healthy children and childhood obesity is a major threat to good health.
“We decided to target the pressing issue of childhood obesity as the health of our children will determine the health of the entire province,” Gormley said.
In 2009, the Blue Cross launched Push 2 Play for an hour a day and formed alliances with other like-minded organizations.
“From the beginning we understood that getting kids physically active was only part of what would be required to deal with childhood obesity,” Gormley said. “We recognize the need to develop a broad community based support that would find a solution to this health issue.”
In 2012, the Blue Cross became involved with MEND through a donation, recognizing it would help prevent obesity in children.
“We particularly appreciate that MEND is an evidence-based program that demonstrates measurable and sustainable improvements in obesity related risk,” Gormley said. “We have been able to see, even in the past year, lifestyle changes and direct answers being found for Saskatchewan families through this health challenge.”
Sask Sport came on board in order to bring the program to the northern communities.
“This community-based healthy lifestyle program aims to curb childhood obesity in Saskatchewan and help inspire families and children and adults to lead fitter and healthier lives,” Sask Sport board member Jerry Shoemaker said.
Their organization has always tried to ensure “all people, regardless of age or ability, have the opportunity to participate in activities that contribute to a healthier Saskatchewan.”
MEND seems like a great fit to achieve their goal, Shoemaker said.
“MEND is an important way to promote an active lifestyle and improve the health and well being of all children,” Shoemaker said “Sask Sport, Sask Culture and Saskatchewan Parks and Recreation Association are very pleased to be able to help with the MEND expansion program into Prince Albert and northern communities. The success of the program has been impressive and we are excited to support even more Saskatchewan families to make lasting lifestyle changes that support healthy weights throughout the province.”
The partnerships in the province will help make the program a success, Sask. Rivers School Division superintendent John Schultz said.
“Many of you in the room today would have heard of the expression it takes a village to raise a child,” Schultz said. “Today, surrounded by partners from the College of Kinesiology, Blue Cross, Sask Sport and our neighbouring Catholic School Division, I feel as though our village is strong for our children.
“To be truly strong, there has to be a relationship that is equitable and has the partners feeling like they are working on common goals,” Schultz said. “I think, from what we have heard today from the guest speakers tells us that our common goal is sitting in this room today with us and we can all agree upon it -- our young people.”
Louise Phaneuf, superintendent of the Prince Albert Catholic School Division, agreed with Schultz.
“Prince Albert, as you can see, is a community rich in diversity and community partnerships,” Phaneuf said. “The launch of the MEND program in our city is another example of how the city of Prince Albert and its partners come together for the benefit of the children and families.”