Healthy School Programs, Healthy Kids

On January 16th, the BC Alliance for Healthy Living hosted an informative webinar on healthy school programs. We heard from the BC Recreation and Parks Association (BCRPA) and the BC Chapter of the Coalition for Healthy School Food, who shared their insights and spoke about two unique projects that they deliver to increase kids’ health and wellbeing.

In 2018, ParticipACTION released a report card showing that only 39% of 5-17 year olds are active enough to benefit their health. The report card highlighted the fact that physical activity in childhood is essential not only for physical health but also for a healthy brain. The benefits of regular activity include improved memory, problem-solving, stress management, self-esteem and self-worth.

We know that healthy food in childhood is also essential for better physical, mental and emotional health. Yet, according to McCreary Centre Society’s 2018 BC Adolescent and Health Survey, 47% of adolescents regularly eat fast foods while only 30% consume the recommended amount of fruits and veggies.

Noelle Virtue, Project Manager for BCRPA spoke about their Before and After School Recreation Program Spaces Grants which provides funding and support to programs based on an eligibility criteria list. This list is designed to address a community need and provide more active and engaging before-and-after school care.

In addition to offering a subsidy for these programs, BCRPA offers free staff training based on the High Five Principles of Healthy Child Development (PHCD) plus they have 22, one-hour webinars that incorporate social and emotional learning into the process. These webinars range in topics from understanding bullying and anxiety in children and how to support them; how to teach kids in nature;  ensure inclusivity and include fun in the workplace so staff feel supported; and how to work with children with autism in a recreational setting.

These grants have had a lasting impact on the children, their families and their communities.  To date, 11 757 new spaces have been created with a notable 25 929 children participating.

Applications for grants are now open for April-June 2020 term.

Our second presenter, Samantha Gambling from the BC Chapter of the National Coalition for Healthy School Food started us off with some interesting and startling facts.

Canada is the only G7 country without a national school food program. The food culture in Canada has seen a dramatic shift over the past two generations. In 1945, our food culture recognized the importance of food in schools as nourishment; however over time there has been a shift to heavily marketed processed foods and shorter meal times as more women joined the workforce and commute times increased.

We learned that school-aged children spend half their day and consume 1/3 of their calories at school and that low food literacy rates and insufficient or unhealthy diets are the norm for most kids which has an impact on academic performance but most importantly on their health and wellbeing.

It was interesting to learn that in Japan and France a school food program is an important part of the curriculum. Lunch time is seen as an educational period like reading or math and students are taught how to wash-up, prepare food and eat together.

While a school food program may not be a panacea for family poverty, what it can do is increase food literacy skills and healthy eating behaviours among children, and set them up with healthy habits that will be important throughout their lives. This is what makes a universal healthy school food program an important health promotion policy.

In BC, teachers spend $3.58 million out of pocket every year to make sure their students get to eat. And 75% of the school districts in our province report having at least one school food program which is run by parents and volunteers. There is an opportunity to build upon these existing programs.

Exciting work lays ahead for the BC Chapter to make a healthy school food program a part of the Provincial 2021 elections.  And there are ways to get involved federally as well, such as tools to contact your MP.

We want to thank both of our dynamic speakers for their informative and engaging presentations and the work they are doing to improve BC kids’ health and wellbeing.

You can listen to the full webinar at the link below.


BC Recreation and Parks Association:

Noelle Virtue is the Project Manager at the BC Recreation and Parks Association working on initiatives at both ends of the age spectrum – infants to 13 years and older adults. Her previous work has included advocacy and policy development in BC and the UK with a particular focus on healthy living. She enjoys being active in beautiful British Columbia and exploring nature with her family.

BC Chapter of the Coalition for Healthy School Food:

Samantha Gambling works for the Public Health Association of BC (PHABC) as a Coordinator of the BC Chapter of the Coalition for Healthy School Food, advocating for public investment in a universal, cost-shared, healthy national school food program. In addition to the Coalition, Samantha works as a “Community Animator” for Farm to School BC, supporting sustainable school food system work across the Vancouver region. She received her MSc. degree from UBC in the Faculty of Land and Food Systems, where she studied agricultural policy and food sovereignty in the BC and New Zealand dairy industries.

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