Healthy Living in the North

Community Health Stars: Seamus Damstrom

Young man sitting on shore with a fishing rod.

Seamus Damstrom, a Grade 12 student at Caledonia Secondary in Terrace, B.C., is Northern Health’s Community Health Star for December!

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.

Young man wearing a helmet and goggles on a ski hill

Seamus initiated a project at his school to bring healthy food options to the canteen. How are you being a health star in your community?

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!

Young man in a park in running clothes

The Northern Health Community Health Stars program highlights exceptional individuals like Seamus who are improving health in their communities. Nominate a Community Health Star in your community!

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.

Vince Terstappen

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.

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Aboriginal Day 2014 in Terrace, B.C.

I had the opportunity to go to Aboriginal Day in Terrace this year; this is unique because I live in Prince Rupert.

buffalo, Aboriginal Day, Victoria

Victoria stands with a buffalo head at Aboriginal Day celebrations in Terrace, B.C. (2014)

Terrace hosted a wonderful event with many displays and great food, vendors,  performers, and activities for children. I made sure I got my fried bread, which they made right in front of me at  the Métis booth. My partner enjoyed a delicious bowl of bison chili. I really appreciated watching the Skeena River Delta Dancers! Hot Flash, Hello Cleveland, the Mad Hatters, and the Gitsegukla dancers also performed and helped make it an amazing day!

Aboriginal Day, Terrace

A dance group at Aboriginal Day in Terrace, B.C. (2014)

My colleague, Lloyd McDames, Aboriginal patient liaison in the Terrace and Kitimat area, hosted an event at Mills Memorial Hospital in Terrace. A dance group performed, staff  were treated to fried bread, and there were displays throughout. This allowed the celebrations to happen for patients and staff who couldn’t participate at the events in town.

Aboriginal Day, Terrace

Preparing fried bread at Aboriginal Day in Terrace, B.C. (2014)

Aboriginal Day is a great opportunity to celebrate our many First Nations in the north and I was glad to be able to join in the fun and to learn more about the rich cultures in the Terrace area.

 

Victoria Carter

About Victoria Carter

Victoria works in Northern Health's Aboriginal health program as the lead for engagement and integration. She is an adopted member of the Nisga’a nation and was given the name “Nox Aama Goot” which means “mother of good heart.” In her work she sees herself as an ally working together with Aboriginal people across the north to improve access to quality health care. She keeps herself well by honouring the mental, emotional, physical and spiritual aspects of her life through spending time with her friends and family, being in nature and working on her own personal growth.

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Overcoming challenges for physical activity

Crystal, outside physical activity.

Crystal, showing dedication and braving the Dawson Creek winter elements to fit some physical activity into her work day.

Fourteen years ago I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder that drastically turned my world upside down. Being active was something that was always important to me and now, at the age of only 20 years old, I was faced with learning how to live with a disease that affected my ability to perform even the simplest of everyday activities.

Working at Northern Health has been a good fit for me, but especially in managing my health. I have enough flexibility in the job that on good days I could be out in the field working and on bad days I could stay in the office. As time went on, I noticed that I started to spend more time in the office. As a result, I walked less and sat much more. Something needed to change.

In 2009 I made a life change. I stepped outside of my personal comfort zone and signed up for a 12 week boot camp at the local gym. I still remember that first day. I was so self-conscious about being weak and poorly conditioned. But, instead of giving up, I kept with it. I also hired a personal trainer. It was a learning experience for both of us as we figured out how I could modify the movements.

At Northern Health we are beginning to walk the walk and be the face of health within our communities and, as we have learned the last few weeks, workplaces are great locations to promote healthy living and integrate physical activity into daily life. I decided that I wanted to use what I had learned over the years and share it with my co-workers, so I created a contest.

In the winter of 2013, the Dawson Creek and Fort St. John health units challenged the Smithers and Terrace health units in the first ever internal Workplace Wellness “Healthier You Challenge.” This challenge was a fun, in-house 12-week pilot project designed around the Northern Health position papers. The focus of the challenge was to educate and engage staff on incorporating healthy lifestyle behaviours into their everyday routines.

Between the four health units, over 100 staff committed to the challenge. Each week I sent out a new worksheet that explained the week’s challenge. The “weekly” challenges were designed to get you moving and start thinking about healthy food choices.

The physical activity component was based on the key message that every move counts. This theme was carried over from week to week. Anytime an employee participated in any form of physical activity for 10 minutes or more, they logged that into their worksheet and gained points for their team. Participants also gained points for every kilometre travelled and/or steps that they took for the day. I got lots of motivation from B.C.’s Physical Activity Line.

The food challenges were based on Canada’s Food Guide and provincial initiatives. These changed week to week. Examples included eating vegetables and fruit, and reducing the amount of trans fat and high sodium foods that were consumed.

One of the big successes of the challenge was the creation of the “Break Challenge.” During the challenge, employees were encouraged to participate in some sort of physical activity for 15 minutes while at work. Each day a group of staff from the Dawson Creek Health Unit could be found outside walking around on their coffee breaks. It was common on the really cold days to find staff lunging, frog jumping, or walking in the hallways. At the end of Week 1, employees had participated in 342 physical activity breaks, 306 hours of physical activity, and had walked 2097 kms.

At the end of the challenge I surveyed participants, asking them what they liked best about the challenge and what changes they had made in their workplace as a result of the challenge. Some of the comments were:

  • Breaking down the challenge week by week made it feel more manageable and seem less daunting. I also liked the fact there was a different challenge each week.
  • For me the best part of the challenge was the joining of the individuals in our health unit to challenge each other in a supportive environment.
  • Able to critically look at the everyday and identify small opportunities for positive change vs. drastic and likely short lived changes.

This is the challenge that I developed for my fellow co-workers. It was fun and really got people engaged. For more information on some of the weekly challenges, or to find out which health unit won bragging rights, make sure to keep an eye for my future updates on the Northern Health blog. Alternatively, if you are looking for a workplace wellness program that your workplace can join, we encourage you to look at the Canadian Cancer Society’s Wellness Fits program.

Crystal Brown

About Crystal Brown

Accepting a position as an Environmental Health Officer with Northern Health, Crystal Brown moved from Nova Scotia to Dawson Creek in 2004. Since then, Crystal has developed an interest in health promotion and how our built environments impact our health. As the B.C. Branch President-Elect since 2011, Crystal works provincially and nationally with the Canadian Institute of Public Health Inspectors to promote the mission statement and maintain the integrity of public health. In this, she also participates in initiatives that will help to strengthen and advance the profession. To stay active, Crystal attends a morning outdoor boot camp, runs and walks her dogs. In August, Crystal participated and completed her first ever Emperor's Challenge in Tumbler Ridge, B.C.

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Aboriginal Day in Terrace: Fun for all ages

Brandon and Agnes at the Aboriginal Day celebrations in Terrace

Brandon Grant, NH Men’s Health Coordinator, stands with two gentlemen who stopped by and received Northern BC Man Challenge t-shirts, and Agnes Snow, Regional Director of Aboriginal Health, at the Aboriginal Day celebrations in Terrace, BC.

On June 23, I had the opportunity to participate in the National Aboriginal Day celebrations in Terrace, along with Agnes Snow, Regional Director of Aboriginal Health. The event was in the downtown park in Terrace, where people were able to purchase food, jewelry, and art at display booths surrounding the grass and a stage featuring live entertainment from local dancers and singers happened all day.

I was manning an informational booth for the NH men’s health program, where we handed out men’s health reports and our other promotional materials, such as our Northern BC Man Challenge t-shirt and golf balls. We had a lot of folks drop by our booth to check out our materials but also to talk about their stories, and what good health meant to them. One gentleman who was visiting from an outside community stopped by and chatted about how hard it was to talk to men about their health and the small things we can all do to improve our health outcomes. This has been a common theme throughout the past year of the program – what can we do to reach men who traditionally have a hard time speaking about their health challenges? We’re hoping that as we engage with more folks like this, we will create a momentum that will make men’s health part of a broader agenda for healthier communities.

It was great to be a part of an event where people of all ages came out to enjoy the beautiful weather, food, activities, and entertainment. I’m hoping to travel to more communities soon, especially the ones where folks who stopped by our booth and requested men’s health presentations came from. And hopefully I will be back to the Aboriginal Day celebrations in Terrace again next year!

Do you have men’s health story? Please share it with us!

Brandon Grant

About Brandon Grant

As the NH men’s health coordinator, Brandon Grant travels across the Northern Health region speaking with community members about the health issues men face and what we can do to improve men’s health. He has worked with a variety of community-based organizations, including the Nawican Friendship Centre and the Northern Family Health Society, and holds two master’s degrees, one in social work and one in public administration. To stay active, Brandon enjoys playing golf and tennis, and whenever possible, visits tropical destinations to go snorkeling.

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