Our Community Health Star for the month of December is an outstanding young man from Terrace who exemplifies what it means to have a passion for health and wellness and to turn that passion into action! Seamus Damstrom is a Grade 12 student at Caledonia Secondary in Terrace, B.C. He was the only northerner in the 2013-2014 cohort of the provincial Healthy Living Youth Council. As a member of that group, Seamus had the chance to lead a health-promoting project in his school.
I was fortunate to be able to connect with Seamus to talk about his project, his passion for healthy eating, and his approach to creating healthy change.
What is the Healthy Living Youth Council?
The Healthy Living Youth Council is a one-year program organized by DASH BC. Every year, students from across B.C. can apply to join the Healthy Living Youth Council. I had 13 students in my cohort and each one of us initiated a project to promote health and wellness in our school.
What type of project did you initiate at your school?
To figure out what I wanted to do, I asked myself, what are my passions? The answer: food and helping people achieve optimal health through food. At school, people know that I’m a big food guy so it made sense to start there.
At that point, I looked at our canteen and noticed that while there were a few healthy options, most of the food being purchased was items like nachos and pizza. I then decided that I would try to use our school canteen to start a food revolution – introducing healthy food options and trying to change students’ eating habits.
How did you accomplish this?
It was a long process but I wanted to make sure to do it right – I knew that change wouldn’t happen if I acted like a dictator so I started with the canteen teacher. We had a great dialogue and found recipes that were healthy and feasible for the canteen to sell.
The next step was to see what my fellow students wanted – if they would actually buy these new food items. I spent four months developing and testing a survey that would let students at Caledonia rank different food items, rate their price, and tell us how often they would buy each item. During this time, I met with Northern Health dietitians, shared the survey with other Healthy Living Youth Council members, piloted the survey with 10 students, and re-designed the survey to make sure that it was ready to go. In March, 461 of 700 Caledonia students completed surveys and then I started the long process of entering and analyzing results. By April, I had my results ready to go and met with the canteen teacher again to put them into action.
To start the food revolution, we put three healthy items — hummus & pita (by far the most popular option in the survey!), homemade soup, and homemade chili — on the menu once a week. We also provided samples of these items before selling them to increase interest.
It was really important to me to do this project in a thoughtful and sustainable way. For example, instead of going in and removing the very popular nachos, which surely would have caused a riot, I worked with the canteen teacher and Northern Health dietitians to add some veggies to the nacho plate and kept the price higher than the new, healthier items. Now, for the 2014-2015 school year, nachos have been taken off of the menu and no one seems to have noticed!
How is the project going now?
I learned a ton during a reflection period after the new items had made their way onto the menu. I thought carefully about the project and applied these lessons to new food projects for this year. Although my time on the Healthy Living Youth Council is done (I’m a mentor to new participants now), a friend and I started a Healthy Living Club at my school. In addition to carrying on with the canteen food project, which is working on a follow-up survey, we have a food and nutrition bulletin board with tips and recipes at school and are working on a mental wellness board, too. The hummus and pita dish is still available in the canteen and we are working with the new canteen teacher on some new recipes. And the nachos are gone!
Where did your passion for food come from?
My Grade 8 foods teacher got me into cooking. By grade 10, I wanted to become a chef and looked into the educational options for that. My parents told me to take a year to think about my different options before committing to a program and in that year, I realized that I’m more interested in using food to help people, so now I’m hoping to become a dietitian.
Food is everything for me and I strongly believe that everything you eat impacts you. Eating healthy can improve your life and I feel like there is so much to learn from food.
What is your message to people wanting to promote health in their community?
You’re never too small to make a change. I’m just a country bumpkin but I feel like I did pretty well on this project! It was a little change in a big world, but that’s where you start. Even the smallest voice can push the snowball down the hill and create a big change!
The Northern Health Community Health Stars program shines a light on community members across northern B.C. who are doing exceptional work, on their own time, to promote health and wellness in their community. To nominate a Community Health Star in your community, visit the Northern Health website.
About Vince Terstappen
Vince Terstappen is a Project Assistant with the health promotions team at Northern Health. He has an undergraduate and graduate degree in the area of community health and is passionate about upstream population health issues. Born and raised in Calgary, Vince lived, studied, and worked in Saskatoon, Victoria, and Vancouver before moving to Vanderhoof in 2012. When not cooking or baking, he enjoys speedskating, gardening, playing soccer, attending local community events, and Skyping with his old community health classmates who are scattered across the world. Vince works with Northern Health program areas to share healthy living stories and tips through the blog and moderates all comments for the Northern Health Matters blog.