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Measuring the health of our youth

By Michelle Osmond

Most schools and organizations have programs in place to promote healthy lifestyles for kids. However, sharing best practices and figuring out their impact is something that has fallen short.

That’s where two Memorial University researchers come in. Dr. Antony Card, the new director of the School of Human Kinetics and Recreation, and his research assistant George Mammen have teamed up with other groups across Canada to figure out how to turn these policies into action with a program called Youth Excel.

Dr. Card and Mr. Mammen received $250,000 from the Coalitions Linking Action and Science for Prevention (CLASP), which will generate a network of knowledge across Canada looking at what works to reduce tobacco use, increase physical activity and reduce obesity.

The goal of CLASP, which is funded by the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer, is to integrate cancer prevention with the prevention of other chronic diseases; to integrate science, policy and practice to optimize prevention efforts; and to form cross-provincial and territorial partnerships to improve health.

The project is a partnership between groups in seven provinces, plus two partners with national mandates, the Joint Consortium for School Health and the Propel Centre for Population Health Impact at the University of Waterloo. The groups will work together to implement existing policies and programs that promote healthy lifestyles, and look at newly implemented policies and programs to figure out the next steps in the promotion of healthy lifestyles among children and youth.

For their part, Dr. Card and Mr. Mammen will look across Canada to examine policies and strategies related to youth physical activity within each province and territory. They’ll then look at what the physical activity indicators have in common.

“Right now, when we scan provincial physical activity policies and strategies, not very many, if any, have indicators of physical activity, or how they are going to measure the indicators. Without this, it’s very difficult for governments to see how youth are doing in terms of being physically active,” explained Mr. Mammen. “By coming up with a common core set of indicators and measures, we can inform governments of the indicators and measures which schools and governments could be using.”

“Our goal is to generate a network of knowledge exchange first within Newfoundland and Labrador engaging health professionals, researchers and policy makers to enhance youth health here,” said Dr. Card. “Once that is complete, we exchange knowledge with other organizations in this grant, and they do the same so we learn from each other.”

Gary Milley is the executive director of Recreation Newfoundland and Labrador. He believes a Youth Excel CLASP network would be very beneficial.
“It would support the implementation of physical activity programs and policies and compliment the work of our organization and its partners in advancing the provinces Active Healthy Newfoundland and Labrador Recreation and Sport Strategy as well as our initiative Small Steps... Big Results Physical Activity Campaign. which is our overall campaign for all physical activity and healthy living programs and initiatives.”

Dr. Card and his team are planning a symposium in the fall, which will bring together health professionals from different sectors, to talk about the potential of such a network.