Multisectoral healthy active living strategy needed for children in Newfoundland
A report released today explored the gaps and opportunities of healthy active living initiatives and programs for school-aged children and youth in Newfoundland.
Dr. Michelle Kilborn, assistant professor with the School of Human Kinetics and Recreation (HKR) at Memorial University led the Healthy Active Living in Newfoundland Research Project along with HKR’s Drs. Erin Cameron, Erin McGowan and Linda Rohr through partnership funding from the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador’s Department of Seniors, Wellness, and Social Development and Recreation Newfoundland and Labrador.
“The future of this province is only as healthy as the next generation,” said Dr. Kilborn. “Building a culture of healthy active living with a more holistic wellness-oriented approach has been identified in this study as essential to improve the health and wellness of children and youth in Newfoundland. Programming must include a balance of physical activity, mental well-being and healthy eating.”
Dr. Kilborn and her team recognized more knowledge was needed of the types of healthy, active living initiatives that exist targeting children and youth in Newfoundland. For this study, they conducted an environmental scan to provide a better understanding of the landscape of such activities across Newfoundland.
This study was comprised of three parts: a review of literature and an online scan of programs related to healthy active living; focus group meetings with key representatives from the healthy active living community; and an electronic survey distributed to education, sport, recreation, health and community partners.
The report lists 12 recommendations (see below) and encourages the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador to use the information for community, regional, and provincial strategies and planning to more effectively support a healthy Newfoundland population. Recommendations themes include facilities, programming, program leads, funding, and evaluation.
“The provincial government has demonstrated a commitment to helping people and communities achieve lifelong active health and well-being through government initiatives,” said Dr. Kilborn. “While supporting community programs is an important component of promoting wellness, it is a challenge to coordinate these programs effectively and understand the impact these initiatives have on health, learning, and performance outcomes.”
It is evident that participants believe there is an appropriate amount of programming for school-aged children and respondents are proud and appreciative of what is offered to youth. However, the majority of healthy, active living programming for school-aged Newfoundlanders is focused on physical activity with few initiatives that provide opportunities to participate in healthy eating and positive mental health activities. A shift in what is being offered needs to reflect commitment to a holistic approach. Researchers also identified many programs needed improvements to funding, resources, expertise, prioritizing of healthy active living, diversity and partnerships.
Analysis indicates a multi-level, collaborative strategy between different sectors and communities is needed to ensure better balance and a more interconnected approach to promoting healthy active living for children and youth. Improved communication of successes and best practices would also be beneficial as well as a comprehensive, ongoing evaluation process that is accessible and available to the public.
Healthy, Active Living in Newfoundland Research Project’s recommendations:
- Design a multi-level, collaborative strategy to ensure better balance and a more interconnected approach to promoting healthy active living for children and youth.
- Develop an updated government-wide strategy focused on enhancing the health and wellness of children and youth that includes multiple departments who target objectives in their business plans to meet the government-wide wellness priorities that include all dimensions—mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual.
- Foster better partnerships between government, university researchers and community organizations to help inform future strategies and initiatives.
- Make improvements to the built environment, especially indoor spaces for physical activity.
- Consider sharing and using spaces in a more comprehensive way to help improve opportunities for healthy active living among children and youth.
- Focus on a balanced healthy active living approach with programming that is accessible, affordable, inclusive and developmentally appropriate.
- As schools are a focal point for healthy active living in most communities, provide additional funding for comprehensive school health programs to improve the current compartmentalized approach that is prevalent across the province.
- Provide better education and information for organizations about how to merge healthy eating, physical activity and mental well-being activities.
- Government working together with communities should consider how to sustain programming and promote a more holistic approach.
- Provide support, training, recognition, updated information, contemporary techniques and evidence-based professional development for program leaders to support a holistic lifestyle approach.
- Review program access and affordability to support better healthy active living in all communities.
- Address issues such as affordability for healthy foods, access to mental health promotion programs, and improved support (resources, education, guidance) for organizations about healthy eating and positive mental health.
- Fund training for leaders on how to actively incorporate all the dimensions (mental, emotional, physical, spiritual) into a program regardless of primary objectives, setting, and/or population.
- Review current and future programs and include an evaluative component to ensure programs are meeting the needs of the community and addressing all dimensions holistically.
- In partnership with university researchers, develop an evaluation package that can provide needed support to program leaders and communities for expertise and consistent measures that can be archived to establish trends and inform planning.