A locally developed program to teach children healthy habits is gaining fame beyond B.C. with interest expressed in Montreal, Manitoba, Alberta, Inuvik and the Middle East.
“The interest has been incredible and it just keeps going,” said Valerie Ryden, a local teacher who helped create the program Healthy Buddies on the Coast nearly a decade ago.
Healthy Buddies is a teacher-guided, student-facilitated program that empowers elementary school children to live healthier lives by providing them with knowledge and encouraging positive attitudes toward the three components of health: physical activity, nutrition and mental health — referred to as Go Move, Go Fuel and Go Feel Good.
One thing that makes Healthy Buddies attractive is the fact older students are paired with younger ones to teach the curriculum once they have a grasp of it.
Another pull is the fact the program is supported by BC Children’s Hospital.
The partnership between the Coast and the Children’s Hospital came about 10 years ago when a local resident called BC Children’s Hospital to express a concern about eating disorders and diabetes in children on the Coast.
At that time Dr. Sue Stock was completing a fellowship in pediatric endocrinology, the study of the body’s metabolism in children.
“And she, for her fellowship, decided instead of doing some kind of treatment model, like studying drugs for diabetes, that she would do a preventative program. So that’s how Children’s Hospital came together with the Sunshine Coast, which is kind of a rare combination,” Ryden said.
Stock put together a team of two physicians and a psychologist and then asked School District No. 46 (SD46) to be involved in the study. The district was happy to help.
“They advertised a teaching position because they wanted to have a teacher involved, and I was fortunate enough to be hired,” Ryden said.
Through discussion and research, Ryden co-authored the Healthy Buddies program with Stock.
“It’s an amazing partnership to have a teacher and a doctor working together. It was best practices in education and best research in medicine. So that was a really wonderful opportunity,” she said.
The Healthy Buddies program was tested at West Sechelt Elementary School while Langdale Elementary School was used as a control school.
“All the evaluations that were done proved really positive,” Ryden said. “[The children] increased their reported healthy behaviours and they exhibited increased healthy living knowledge. It was a really rigorous assessment.”
The study also showed a drop in blood pressure for those students taking part in Healthy Buddies.
“The program has things like yoga, the importance of sleep, relaxation, those types of things are taught, so perhaps that’s why. Also the children buddy with older kids, so it was thought that increased the comfort of the kids at the school,” Ryden said.
The final positive result of the program was the fact students started to “trend away from obesity.”
“So because of those really strong results, the program was actually written up and published in the pediatrics journal, which is a really well reputed medical journal in the U.S.,” she said.
Because of the positive results of the study, BC Children’s Hospital invested more funding to create a Healthy Buddies resource that could be used by teachers across the province.
The program proved beneficial for many and soon inquiries from out of the province started coming in. The most recent inquiry was from Beaufort Delta in Inuvik, a community searching for a proven health resource to educate their children.
“They wanted to modify it for use with the Inuit population up there. We translated parts of it into the language and we had illustrations redrawn to reflect their appearance. We added foods and music that are more reflective of their culture,” Ryden said.
The teaching community there embraced the curriculum and recently the program was shared at the Circumpolar Health Conference, in the hope more communities up North will run the program at their schools.
“Within the program binders, in every binder, there’s acknowledgements given to SD46 and the Sunshine Coast. So there are these resources in the Arctic Circle that have SD46 in them, which is wonderful,” Ryden noted.
The program is still used on the Coast when a school commits to running it and last year Davis Bay Elementary School benefited from the program.
To find out more, see www.healthybuddies.ca.