Prof helps develop new provincial wellness program
by Jeff Green
Armed with a pot of provincial funding, a Memorial University professor is aiming to get more school-age children active and increase their overall health.
The provincial government has committed $50,000 to go towards a series of programs in five rural schools throughout eastern Newfoundland. Dr. Antony Card, an assistant professor from the School of Human Kinetics and Recreation, is the project leader for the Active Schools program.
He was presented with the funding on Friday, April 20, by Ross Wiseman, provincial minister of Health and Community Services at Random Island Academy. The funding was provided through the Provincial Wellness Grants Program.
“Pedometer and BMI data that we have collected this year in St. John’s and Central Newfoundland indicate that children are not getting sufficient physical activity for optimal growth and development,” Dr. Card said. “This is particularly the case on weekends where children seem to prefer to play on computers rather than engaging in physical activity. Lower rates of physical activity are seen amongst girls and in rural communities.”
Dr. Card will help implement an Active Schools program at Random Island Academy; St. Augustine’s Primary on Bell Island; Matthew Elementary in Bonavista; Epiphany Elementary in Heart’s Delight, and Sacred Heart Elementary in Marystown.
The initiative is being offered in partnership with the Eastern School District and Eastern Health.
The program will provide teachers will the training, support and various resources they need to try and get students more active. The program aims to work 20 minutes of daily physical activity into class time.
Dr. Card said the new program’s goal includes increasing the overall health of students and helping create a model for developing co-ordinated school health programs that are appropriate for rural Newfoundland and Labrador.
“The intervention will bring physical activity to the regular classroom setting and ensure that students get daily physical activity,” he noted. “When combined with physical education, school sports and the new school food guidelines, the impact should bring about a change in school culture towards active healthy living.”
He said the program he is helping develop “is about changing attitudes, educating students and getting the message to parents.
“In determining the effectiveness of the intervention, the intention is also to define the model and gain an appreciation for challenges of bringing the project to geographically dispersed rural schools.”
Government’s commitment to the new programs couldn’t come at a better time. According to experts, one in four children in this province is overweight or obese. Officials insist diet and inactivity are major contributing factors.
Obesity in childhood increases the risk for obesity in adulthood and Type II Diabetes.
“It is essential that we educate and promote healthy living among our children to protect their health now and help instil lifelong healthy habits that will positively impact them for years to come,” Mr. Wiseman said in a news release. “In addition to supporting wellness for the students in these four schools, this project will result in a wellness model which we can implement in other schools throughout rural areas of our province.”
The program builds on a previous commitment by the provincial government to try and get students more active. The Department of Education has invested $2.4 million in new physical education equipment in schools across the province.
The Williams government released its Provincial Wellness Plan in March 2005. Information about it and other healthy initiative is available online at www.health.gov.nl.ca.