Healthy Living in the North

What can you do to support safe and inclusive school environments for children with food allergies?

The lunch bell rings and Johnny enthusiastically starts to eat his tuna salad sandwich, apple, cookie, and milk. As he is chatting with his friends, he suddenly starts to feel sick. His mouth feels itchy and his tummy starts to hurt. Johnny finds his teacher and tells her he is not feeling well. His teacher is aware that Johnny has a food allergy and recognizes the signs of a serious allergic reaction. She gives him life-saving medication and calls 9-1-1.

Students in classroom

Creating allergy-aware schools is everyone’s job! Students, parents, and schools all have a role to play!

May is Allergy Awareness Month: it’s a great time to talk about how we can create safe and inclusive environments for children with food allergies so they may safely eat, learn, and play.

In Canada, approximately 300,000 children have food allergies. The most common food allergens are eggs, milk, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, sesame, seafood, wheat, and sulphites. Anaphylaxis is the most serious type of allergic reaction and can be deadly if untreated.

As a dietitian who has supported families with an allergic child, I understand that keeping your child safe at school can seem like a daunting task. I have also come to understand that prevention is not enough. While some schools will ask parents not to send foods with certain allergens like peanuts to classrooms, it is important that students and schools have the knowledge and skills to respond to allergic emergencies appropriately. Creating allergy-aware schools is everyone’s job!

What can schools do?

All school boards are required to develop an allergy-aware policy as well as an individual anaphylaxis emergency plan for each student with a serious allergy. In addition, schools can:

  • Work with parents to develop realistic prevention strategies. For example, some schools have “allergy-aware” eating areas while other schools have specific rules about allergens in the classroom.
  • Support ongoing training for all staff including teachers, bus drivers, and food service staff.
  • Consider non-food items for some class and school celebrations.
  • Take steps to ensure students with allergies are not bullied or left out.
  • Raise awareness about food allergies in the classroom, at school assemblies, or consider running a school-wide allergy awareness challenge.

What can parents and caregivers of children with allergies do?

  • Inform your school about your child’s allergy.
  • Provide your school with epinephrine auto-injectors, if needed.
  • Plan ahead for field trips and special events.
  • Teach your child how to protect themselves and reduce risk of exposure.
  • Read food labels carefully every time you shop and be aware of cross-contamination.
  • Guide your child as they learn to take on more responsibility for managing their allergy.

What can children with allergies do?

  • Wash hands with soap and water before and after eating.
  • Do not share food, utensils, or containers.
  • Be careful with food prepared by others.
  • Carry an epinephrine auto-injector at all times (by age 6 or 7 children are usually mature enough to do so).
  • Tell your friends about your allergies and what they should do in an allergic emergency.
  • Tell an adult as soon as you suspect an accidental exposure to an allergen.

Looking for more information about food allergies at school?

Here are a few of my top picks for resources and tools for parents, caregivers, or anyone working in and with schools:

Looking for personalized support? HealthLink BC’s Allergy Nutrition Service provides support to families who have concerns and question around food allergies. Just dial 8-1-1 and ask to speak with a registered dietitian.

Emilia Moulechkova

About Emilia Moulechkova

Originally from the Lower Mainland, Emilia started her career with Northern Health as a dietetic intern in 2013. Since then, she has worked in a variety of roles as a Registered Dietitian with the population health team. In her current role, she supports schools across the north in their efforts to promote healthy eating. Emilia is passionate about food’s role in bringing people and communities together, and all the ways it can support physical, mental, and social health. Her overall philosophy on healthy eating can be summarized by this Ellyn Satter quote: “When the joy goes out of eating, nutrition suffers.” In her spare time, she loves exploring the beautiful northern outdoors by foot, skis, bike, or canoe!

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Community skating project scores in Telegraph Creek!

Northern Health’s IMAGINE Community Grants provide funding to a variety of groups with projects that make northern communities healthier. Our hope is that these innovative projects inspire healthy community actions where you live! Check out the story below and read more IMAGINE Community Grant stories.


Outdoor ice rink

Various community partners came together to make skating accessible for students and families in Telegraph Creek.

What do you get when you take a revitalized outdoor skating rink, invested and engaged community partners, new equipment, and a community of children, youth, and families looking for recreational opportunities to enjoy during the long, cold winter? You get a Community Skating Project that benefits the entire community!

Last spring, the principal of the Tahltan School, located in Telegraph Creek, applied for an IMAGINE Community Grant to support the school’s interest in providing skating equipment and activities for the students that would also be accessible and inclusive for the entire school community. The original plan for the project was to get the gear and skate on the local lake and, through a partnership with the Tahltan Band, to offer a few trips to the nearest indoor rink, located 112 km away in Dease Lake.

Fortunately for the staff, students, and families of Telegraph Creek, an unexpected and welcome partnership along the way with the local RCMP made this community initiative even more successful than the original plan! The RCMP staff took on the task of putting in ice at the local outdoor ice rink in Telegraph Creek and maintaining it throughout the season so that all could access and enjoy the rink! They even offered a celebration day once the ice was ready where they gave out free hot chocolate and snacks for everyone.

The positive impact of having outdoor recreation was amazing to witness. The rink was mainly enjoyed by the youth, and in a community where there are limited recreational opportunities, it was rewarding to see them having so much fun.- Mark Van Wieringen, First Nations policing constable

Aerial shot of ice rink

Once the weather cooperated in Telegraph Creek, a beautiful outdoor rink took shape and provided a winter recreation option in the community.

The great success of the new project also came with some challenges that are not unique to our northern communities:

One challenge was weather: not having a usable ice rink until the weather was cold enough and then it became too cold! There were plans in place to get a school bus for our school that we could use for trips to skate in Dease Lake but unfortunately that bus was delayed, which made it difficult to organize a trip. We were lucky that the RCMP staff were able to make ice on the outdoor rink this year. -Nancy Danuser, vice principal, Tahltan School

Families skating on outdoor rink

With support from the local RCMP detachment, families in Telegraph Creek got to enjoy a community celebration and an outdoor ice rink!

Through community partnerships, some flexibility, and a bit of seed funding, fantastic project ideas can be realized and last in the community for years to come:

The IMAGINE grant has made it possible for children without skates to participate… it has allowed us to support other community events like the Winter Carnival by lending skates to those who need them. -Nancy Danuser

What can you do to improve the health of your community and who can you partner with to make it happen? Submit your IMAGINE grant application today!


IMAGINE Community Grants provide funding to community organizations, service agencies, First Nations bands and organizations, schools, municipalities, regional districts, not-for-profits, and other partners with projects that make northern communities healthier. We are looking for applications that will support our efforts to prevent chronic disease and injury, and improve overall well-being in our communities. At the time of this story’s publication, the deadline for the next cycle of IMAGINE Community Grants is March 31, 2017.

Mandy Levesque

About Mandy Levesque

Mandy Levesque is Northern Health’s Lead, Healthy Community Development, Integrated Community Granting. Born and raised in northern Manitoba, Mandy and her family moved to Prince George in 2013. Mandy has a background in public health and health promotion and is a graduate of the University of Saskatchewan. She is passionate about innovation and quality, empowering northern populations, and promoting health and wellness across communities. In her spare time, Mandy enjoys spending time with her family and stays active by taking in the exciting activities, trails, and events northern B.C. has to offer.

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Teachers! Don’t just blow smoke – Cut through the smoke screen!

Outside of school building with sign that says "Student Drop Off Ahead"

With kids back in school, teachers are uniquely placed to prevent smoking amongst youth. Reg shares some great tips for teachers!

While the prospect of youth starting to smoke is concerning, there’s some great news from the 2012-13 Youth Smoking Survey. The percentage of Canadian youth who currently smoke and the percentage of youth in British Columbia who have ever tried a cigarette have both declined.

Unfortunately, some youth will start using tobacco. Teachers play an important role in educating students about the harmful effects of tobacco use.

If you’re a teacher, when you talk about tobacco, remember the following:

  • Start talking about tobacco early in the school year. Don’t wait until it becomes a problem on the school grounds before addressing it. Ensure that your school has a clear policy on tobacco and that it’s clearly communicated.
  • Speak to your students as intelligent people who can make good decisions. Don’t speak down to them or try to intimidate them into not using tobacco – rather than starting a genuine conversation around tobacco, this is more likely to create barriers.
  • Don’t make assumptions about how much your students know about tobacco. Most students are likely aware that tobacco is harmful, but might underestimate the health risks or long-term consequences of tobacco use. Be creative and engage your students in exploring the harms of tobacco use. Use a biology class to look at what using tobacco does to the body. Explore other alternatives for dealing with things like peer pressure or stress as part of a social studies class.

According to the Youth Smoking Survey, the average age a young person tries a cigarette is 13.6 years old. As a teacher, you are at the right place and in the right time to address it!

Reg Wulff

About Reg Wulff

Reg is a licensing officer with Northern Health and has his BA in Health Science. Previously, he worked as a Recreation Therapist with Mental Health and Addictions Services in Terrace as well as a Regional Tobacco Reduction Coordinator. Originally from Revelstoke, Reg enjoys the outdoor activities that Terrace offers, like mountain biking and fishing. Reg also likes playing hockey, working out, and creative writing. He is married and has two sons and believes strongly in a work/life balance as family time is important to him.

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