Learning how to shop for, cook, and eat healthy food are some skills children and their families are being taught to “CHANGE” their habits and reduce chronic disease.
The CHANGE Health Community Program was launched two years ago in Edmonton, Calgary, and Medicine Hat areas. Recently, the program opened up their sessions to all rural Albertans.
“What I am seeing more recently is that children and now young adults are growing up without the skills to live well and healthy,” said Dr. Doug Klein, founder of the CHANGE program.
Dr. Klein and his team from the University of Alberta Department of Family Medicine have partnered with Alberta Blue Cross to share their expertise with rural residents.
Dietitians, exercise specialists, mental health, and other health professionals take part in the sessions, which were once offered in person. The program pivoted to online classes when COVID-19 began and these classes are now accessible province-wide.
The weekly group sessions focus on the ways physical activity, diet, mental health wellbeing, family relationships, and community connections contribute to lifelong wellness.
“Some people don’t know how to cook anymore and tend to rely on takeout or pre-prepared things from the grocery store,” Dr. Klein explained.
“Down the road when they develop some chronic disease, it is really challenging for those people to change their lifestyle because they don’t have those building blocks.”
Dr. Klein said the program is not designed to turn participants into “sous chefs or anything like that, but they can look after themselves, and they know that it can be fun to cook in the kitchen.”
Some people don’t know how to cook anymore and tend to rely on takeout or pre-prepared things from the grocery store. Down the road when they develop some chronic disease, it is really challenging for those people to change their lifestyle, because they don’t have those building blocks.
-Dr. Doug Klein, University of Alberta professor
in the Department of Family Medicine
The fitness portion of CHANGE emphasizes that it’s unnecessary to workout at a gym, be part of a team, have all the necessary workout equipment, or spend any money to build physical activity into a person’s routine.
“Part of this program is to expose and give families and children the opportunity to relearn that, for physical activity, you don’t need anything special. You just need to go outside and move,” he said.
The virtual sessions are easy for people to incorporate into their lives and also give participants an opportunity to connect with other families who may have similar family dynamics or interests, said Amanda Radil, evaluation lead with CHANGE Health Programs in the University of Alberta’s Department of Family Medicine.
“We hear from families that for many of them they have formed connections through this program that have moved beyond just the weekly sessions,” added Radil. “They have met new friends, [and] they have met new families that they can connect with.
“Having that social connection particularly through times like COVID-19 is really important. There are lots of different reasons why a family [or] cohort may feel isolated or disconnected from their community, and [CHANGE] has provided an opportunity for families to meet others.”
Through the Alberta Blue Cross partnership, CHANGE has been able to reach over 100 families to date with no cost to participants.
“[CHANGE] equips families with the knowledge, skills, and resources to address health concerns through these fun educational activities. In doing so, [CHANGE] takes a preventative approach to health, supporting the development of healthy, resilient families,” explained Anita Quach, a wellness partnership and innovation specialist with Alberta Blue Cross.
While the organizers prefer to host the sessions in-person at 10 sites across Alberta, Radil said online meetings and local partnerships have allowed the program to continue despite the pandemic.
Vendors such as local grocery stores have stepped up to offer boxes with fresh produce and other ingredients, recipe ideas, and other items so key topics such as food budgeting, sleep techniques, and physical activity can also be practised at home.
“Our program coordinators and facilitators try to take an approach that is very flexible with the families, that allows each family to participate in a way that works for them,” Radil added.