Healthy Kids Community Challenge program officially up and running

Children reach into pumpkins and pull out a gooey handful of seeds to be counted during one of the many games during the Healthy Kids Community Challenge launch party.

AUNDECK OMNI KANING—With the sound of happy children playing in the background, Anishinabek Nation (Union of Ontario Indians) Grand Council Chief Patrick Madahbee, who is the campaign champion for the Healthy Kids Community Challenge, welcomed everyone to the launch of the Manitoulin’s Healthy Kids Community Challenge campaign.

“This is an approach we should probably take in the other areas of health in our communities,” suggested Chief Madahbee, “the preventative approach.”

In his address, Chief Madahbee noted that a lot of the habits we develop and continue into adolescent and adult behaviours are formed when we are children. Chief Madahbee noted that he has seen tremendous changes amongst the activities of children in his own community.

“I am shocked when I hear that nobody goes to the apple trees up on the hill anymore,” he said, noting that the wonders of the bush surrounding the community remain largely unexplored by the children in the community. “I am of an age when our parents would send us outside in the morning and we were not expected home until suppertime.”

A program that seeks to turn that sedentary lifestyle on its head and encourages children to “run, jump and play,” is long overdue, he noted.

The program was originally supposed to be a four-year initiative, launched with significant fanfare in the fall of last year and an announced $1.29 million budget, but due to the late funding announcement by the province it is now a three-year program and funding will be $525,000. The original program end date was 2018, but there is hope that there will be an extension. The late funding announcements had much the same impact across the province.

The program itself is based on a highly successful strategy developed in France, noted Project Manager Sabrina Legault.

The work-to-rule situation at Manitoulin Island public schools is also presenting a challenge, in that the programming planned for those institutions must navigate those labour shoals. But there are plans in the works to deal with those issues. “We have a steering committee meeting to figure out how we can move forward with the programming in the schools,” said Ms. Legault.

The program is a key part of Ontario’s Healthy Kids Strategy. That strategy is a cross-government initiative to promote children’s health that focuses on a healthy start in life, healthy food and healthy active communities.

The program is part of the Ontario government’s ‘Focus on Healthy Kids: Strategies That Target Risk Factors for Unhealthy Weights’, including improving nutrition and physical activity, aimed at benefiting all children by focussing on positive health messages.

The program builds on the recognition that healthy kids live in healthy families, schools and communities. To that end, the strategies focus not just on children but on parents and the broader community.

A key element of that strategy is to support health equity. That is, supporting population level interventions and interventions tailored to reach vulnerable populations most at risk.

The Healthy Kids Strategy is focused on three main pillars: Healthy Start, supporting healthy pregnancy and early years to build the foundation for healthy childhood and beyond; Healthy Food, initiatives to promote healthy eating, achieving healthy weights and healthy childhood development; and Healthy Active Communities, aimed at building healthy environments for kids in their communities.

The goal of the Healthy Kids Community Challenge is to support the well-being of children in the community. The goal is to help create communities where it is easy for children to lead healthier lives.

There are 45 communities participating in the Healthy Kids Community Challenge. Using resources supplied by the province including, funding, training and social marketing tools, the challenge will seek to promote healthy eating, physical activity and healthy behaviours for children.

Community members can participate by signing onto be a partner and promoting the Healthy Kids Community Challenge in your business, library, school, fitness centre etc; by helping to promote the healthy living theme, especially when you have specific expertise or interest in particular themes; make a financial contribution or provide expertise or interest in particular themes; by making a financial contribution or by providing expertise and/or resources to support the program; and by participating on a local steering committee to help guide and promote the Healthy Kids Community Challenge in your community.

Benefits for children and families are touted as skills for staying active and eating well, support with making healthy choices, close links to supports within the community and more chances to be involved and to be included in shaping the environment that will support healthy lifestyles for families and children.

Currently, the program has partnerships in place with the Sudbury District Health Unit and the Manitoulin Health Centre.