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Sunday, August 25, 2019

Regional program takes aim at childhood obesity

This week saw the launch of region-wide Healthy Kids Community Challenge, including Family Day activities at the Woolwich Memorial Centre in Elmira.

Aiming to improve the frightening statistics surrounding childhood obesity, the Healthy Kids Community Challenge launched in Waterloo Region this weekend in conjunction with Family Day weekend.

The region was given $1.125 million from the provincial government’s Ministry of Health and Long Term Care as one of 45 communities in Ontario participating in the challenge. Woolwich Township recreation staff were on hand on Monday at the Woolwich Memorial Centre giving out healthy snacks to families who came out to participate in the free public swims and skates.

The first theme of the challenge is ‘Run. Jump. Play. Every Day.’ Cities and townships in the region brainstormed ways to engage children 12 and under and their families in active play.

Jennifer Horndl, facilities supervisor at the WMC says they looked at the different recreation possibilities in the township and held a forum to decide how they’d help kids get active.

“I think what spoke to us was just the statistics that are out there. There’s been a 14 per cent decline in the number of kids who play outside after school over the last decade.  Only seven per cent of children and youth accumulate that 60 minutes a day at least six days a week. So for us the priority of Woolwich was to really look at the ‘run, jump, play every day’ theme, and how can we engage that active, creative outdoor play here in the township,” Horndl said.

They decided to do two initiatives. The first one is activating creative play by piggy backing on some existing events throughout the township, like family fun days and school carnivals.

“We’re going to send out some of our playground staff with equipment like potato sacks, just bringing back that old-fashioned fun community picnic type of feel. We’re calling them pop up playgrounds. We’re going to teach the kids how to play outside again,” Horndl said.

They’ll be teaching them games like Red Rover and four square.

Secondly they’re working with the rare Foundation to put together creepy crawler trail walks, intended to encourage families to use the township’s trails. They’re bringing in animators from rare Charitable Research Reserve, who are going to take people through the trails, showing them different bugs and the township will provide some butterfly nets.

Free healthy snacks were given to families at the WMC on Monday as part of the Healthy Kids Community Challenge. Some 45 communities in Ontario are participating with the aim to reduce childhood obesity.[Whitney Neilson / The Observer]
Free healthy snacks were given to families at the WMC on Monday as part of the Healthy Kids Community Challenge. Some 45 communities in Ontario are participating with the aim to reduce childhood obesity. [Whitney Neilson / The Observer]
Sanjay Govindaraj, Region of Waterloo Public Health planner says one of the nice things about this funding is it has so much flexibility.

“They kept the theme quite broad, just run, jump, play and they said targeted to 0-12.  So it gave each of us a chance to see what really fits each city and township. If you look at all the actions that came out… it’s so diverse,” Govindaraj said.

Addressing obesity is a complex issue because programs and policies are changing even the environment kids are in, he says. Long gone are the days when they’d run around outside at lunch playing tag or some imaginary game. Now, many of them are involved in clubs and groups during that typical outdoor time.

Govindaraj says the public health staff at the region felt this challenge was a perfect start to at least get the planning, partnership, and energy going to find new ways of dealing with obesity.

“When the province reacted to the huge obesity challenge, they said look there’s a great example from Europe which has been showing some success in around 22 different countries, how about we do it here? And the first call for proposals came. There was quite a bit of scramble and I think all the townships and cities said let’s put in one giant proposal and the region played more of a facilitator, admin, coordination kind of support role. But the cities and the townships are the leads on this. It’s been a very interesting partnership,” Govindaraj said.

The European project he’s referring to is Epode (Ensemble Prévenons l’Obésité des Enfants – Together Let’s Prevent Childhood Obesity). It connects government agencies, school boards, community groups and non-government agencies to create common goals for decreasing childhood obesity.

The region was approved for the funding at the end of June and they received the money in October. A staff member from each city and township formed the steering committee. They came up with their plans to align with the theme in December and they’ve been holding launch events throughout February.

“Each city and each township had a different plan of engaging their partners, some had forums, some identified key stakeholders, some had just an online survey. We really pulled a lot of different people to see what’s already existing, what’s already happening and where the energy is with each council or township. Some had strategic plans in place. We also wanted to be more specific to each local city and township that had already had plans to do, that’s how we tried to link up the funds to what each township and city want to do,” Govindaraj said.

The challenge is running for three years with a new theme every nine months focused on either physical activity or healthy eating. Wellesley’s launch event is on Feb. 21 at the Wellesley Arena with free skating from 12-1:30 p.m.

“If you look at the competition for time and even how much time parents tend to spend with kids, there are so many different factors that are impacting the time that kids get to play outside. We’re also trying to partner with both the school boards to see how we could support some of the programming that’s already there. Because this takes much more than having a few programs or opportunities, we’re trying to see if it’s access to these problems or are there other challenges that are creating the barriers,” Govindaraj said.

For a full list of the Healthy Kids Community Challenge activities visit www.regionofwaterloo.ca/healthykids.

Whitney Neilson
Whitney Neilsonhttp://www.observerxtra.com
Whitney Neilson is a photo journalist for The Observer.

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