Healthy Living in the North

Back to school: The connection protection

School bus

Back-to-school time reminds us of our connection to the built environment, school and playground.

This is the second year now where my daughter gears up for school and my son gears up to wait. My 4-year-old son has one more year at home before beginning his school journey in kindergarten in September 2017.

When I watch my 4-year-old wave to his sister as she walks to school, I am reminded of the many connections that exist at back-to-school time and how each of these connections will protect our family. Northern Health’s newly released Child Health Report would go so far as to say connection is one of the building blocks of health.

The first week of school is the perfect time to talk to kids about making new friends, showing kindness to others, and extending tolerance and acceptance. The pencils, patterns, and routines of a new school year help connect and ground our children to each other and the physical world around them in a way that the global community (internet and social media) cannot.

September and back-to-school season is a time to reconnect and connection can be a positive force in a child’s life for the long term. As parents, we can support the wonder, excitement and connection to education:

Back-to-school season also reminds us of our connection to the built environment, school, and playground. Motor vehicle crashes continue to lead the injury-related hospitalizations for children in the North. A community approach to safety develops our “connection protection”:

  • Make eye contact. Learn about pedestrian safety. Talk to kids while crossing the street about making eye contact or a connection with drivers. Look, listen, and be seen.
  • Use the crosswalk. Take the time to hold hands, connect, and walk with children while crossing; kids under age 10 are not ready to judge traffic safely and still rely on parents and drivers to protect them.
  • Slow down. Finally, view school zones as one last chance for an important connection. My 4-year-old thinks a 30 km/hr school zone is the slow zone by which he can wave goodbye to his sister for the day. For now, I will let him think that’s exactly what it is!
Amy Da Costa

About Amy Da Costa

Amy Da Costa has worked in Public Health for 12 years. She recently joined the Population Health team as a part-time Regional Nursing Lead for Injury Prevention. Amy lives in Kitimat with her husband and two children. They like to camp, swim, and cook as a family.


Teachers and parents can support children to avoid tobacco use!

If kids didn’t start smoking, the problematic use of tobacco would be a thing of the past before the end of this century!

Kids learn from an early age that tobacco is bad for their health yet every day there are young people in Canada taking their first puffs. Most smokers start using tobacco before their 19th birthday, at an average age of 13. It’s obvious that education about the harmful effects of cigarettes, cigars and chewing tobacco is not enough to stop kids from trying tobacco.

If you’re a teacher, maybe some of your students started smoking over the summer and they’re now suffering withdrawal in your classroom!

Some teens are persuaded to try tobacco by their peers if they are more influenced by this group than their parents. They may not be aware that the first puffs of a cigarette or a flavoured cigar may lead to a lifetime of nicotine addiction. Three out of four young smokers will continue to smoke into adulthood.

How can you support children and youth in your community to avoid tobacco use?

How can you support children and youth in your community to avoid tobacco use?

It only takes a few cigarettes to make changes in the teenage brain, leading to cravings and continued use of tobacco. Even though many teens do not smoke daily, they still have difficulty quitting.

Teachers and parents can support children to avoid tobacco use with conversations about:

You have a role in supporting a tobacco free community! Northern Health supports the cultural and ceremonial use of smoke, tobacco and other legal sacred plants and recognizes the benefits of traditional and spiritual uses can outweigh the potential harms.

For more info, check out QuitNow or email

Nancy Viney

About Nancy Viney

Nancy is a registered nurse working in Northern Health’s population health team. She often imagines a day when no one in northern British Columbia suffers from the harmful effects of tobacco. In her time off, she enjoys spending time with her family and friends, especially her two little grandchildren! Nancy also enjoys quilting, knitting, crocheting and many other home spun crafts.


Is your daughter in Grade 6 this year? Do you have questions about the HPV vaccine?

Dog with a sign that says "back to school".

It’s back-to-school season across the province! With all of the papers your kids are bringing home, Kathryn urges you to keep your eyes open for the Immunization Consent Form and answers your questions about the HPV vaccine and how it can protect your kids from cancer.

As we settle back into school routines and the leaves slowly start to yellow and fall, you may feel overwhelmed with the handfuls of papers that your child is bringing back from school. One paper that I hope you watch out for is the Grade 6 Immunization Consent Form.

You may have heard a lot about one of the vaccines offered to female students in Grade 6: the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine. As a public health nurse, I have had many conversations with parents and girls about the HPV vaccine. I am frequently impressed with the amount of reading and research that parents do on their own to make the best choices for their children. Often, our main resource for information is social media like Facebook where it can be a challenge to find information that is evidence-based and reliable.

My goal in writing this blog is to provide you with some helpful information on the HPV vaccine and some of the valuable sites for more information that are at your fingertips! I thought about some of the most frequently asked questions that I get from parents and young women about the HPV vaccine and thought that some of these may be on your mind, too, as you consider the HPV vaccine for yourself or your child.

What is the HPV vaccine anyways?

Gardasil® (HPV4) is the HPV vaccine given to Grade 6 girls in B.C. It protects against 4 different types of HPV infection.

It provides protection against two types of HPV that cause about 70% of cervical cancers, 80% of anal cancers, and various other cancers such as cancers of the mouth & throat, penis, vagina, and vulva. It also protects against infection from two more types of HPV that cause about 90% of genital warts cases.

What is HPV?

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the world today. Approximately 75% of sexually active Canadians will have at least one HPV infection in their lifetime. HPV is spread through skin-to-skin contact. Any kind of sexual activity involving oral or genital contact can spread HPV. Sexual intercourse is not necessary to get infected.

Why should I vaccinate my Grade 6 daughter?

Many parents have asked me why their child should have the vaccine if their daughters are not currently sexually active. Research has shown that vaccination provides the best levels of protection in girls aged 9 to 13. In fact, preteens have a better immune response to the vaccine. The vaccine works best when it is given before sexual activity begins, because the HPV vaccines were developed to prevent HPV, not to treat it.

Is the vaccine safe?

I often receive questions about the HPV vaccine and its safety. Studies show that the HPV vaccine is safe and effective. Since the HPV vaccine was approved, 175 million doses have been distributed worldwide. Vaccines in Canada are only licenced for use if they meet strict standards for safety and effectiveness.

The most common side effects from the vaccine include redness, swelling, and soreness in the arm where the vaccine was given as well as headache and fever. You cannot become infected with HPV from the vaccine and the vaccines do not contain any antibiotics or preservatives, such as mercury or thimerosal.

What if my daughter missed her Grade 6 vaccine?

Worried your daughter missed her Grade 6 HPV vaccine? Girls born in 1994 or later who missed getting the HPV4 vaccine can contact their health care provider to get immunized at no cost.

What else do I need to know about HPV and cervical cancer?

  • Three out of four sexually active women will get HPV at some point in their lives.
  • Most don’t show any signs or symptoms and can pass the virus onto others without even knowing it.
  • Every year in B.C., 175 women will get cervical cancer.

What about my son and other boys and men?

You may have heard of new eligibility for HPV vaccine for boys and men aged 9-26 in B.C. While there is new eligibility for free vaccine for certain boys and men, there will be no changes to the school vaccine programs. If you’d like more information about new eligibility criteria and accessing the free vaccine for boys and men, visit HealthLinkBC.

Can you suggest any other helpful resources about HPV?

  • For more information on the HPV vaccine, visit HPV Info or ImmunizeBC.
  • Check out some informative videos about the HPV vaccine at ImmunizeBC. I like the Dr. Mike Evans videos and find the personal stories of experiences with cervical cancer very powerful to watch.
  • If you have more questions or would like more information about the HPV vaccine, speak to your doctor or contact your primary care provider.
Kathryn Germuth

About Kathryn Germuth

Kathryn born in northern B.C., has worked as a Public Health Nurse in the communities of Terrace and Kitimat starting in 2009. Most recently, she worked as a Primary Care Nurse in Kitimat. Currently Kathryn is filling in as the Regional Nursing Lead for Maternal, Infant, and Child. Her close connection for health promotion and advocacy for mothers and families developed through her work as a nurse, and her own experiences being a mother. Kathryn loves living in the north experiencing all it has to offer with her family.


Foodie Friday: Keeping lunches fun for back to school

Two kids and two adults packing lunch in the kitchen

If your kids help to pack their own lunch or help with the grocery shopping, they’re much more likely to eat it! Mix and match protein, fruit and vegetables, a carbohydrate, and some fat for a great, nutritious lunch.

Whether you love having your kids home for summer or are looking forward to the start of school, most parents find making lunches a bit of a chore. Without fresh ideas, lunches can get a bit repetitive and pretty soon your child is bringing home the majority of what you sent with them.

So what can you do?

First, involve your child in making their lunch! You are likely to get more buy-in and your kids are more likely to eat their lunch if they help with making it or with the grocery shopping for the ingredients.

Making sure you have everything on hand saves a lot of time, too. You may need ice packs to keep items cold, enough reusable containers for the foods you want to send, and a water bottle for sending water to drink. If you have extra food at supper, packing it up into lunch-sized portions right after supper saves time and makes lunch prep easy!

Lunch kit with tomatos, egg, water bottle, plum, granola bar, and yogurt.

Rebecca’s lunch includes cheese, yogurt, tomatoes, a hard-boiled egg, plum, granola bar, and more! What about yours? Don’t forget your water bottle, ice pack, and containers!

Need some inspiration for ideas? Here are some tried and true ideas to mix and match.

  • Sandwich, wrap, roti or pita stuffed with meat, cheese, egg, tuna, peanut butter*, jam, vegetables and/or hummus.
  • Chili, stew, perogies, soup, samosas, pasta salad
  • Dinner leftovers (look for a meat (chicken, fish, pork) or alternative; vegetable; and grain, potato, or pasta)
  • Waffles/pancakes or muffin
  • Cereal and milk
  • Quiche; scrambled or hard-boiled eggs
  • Cracker and cheese; tortilla
  • Yogurt and granola
  • Kebabs (meat, cheese, vegetable)

If you base a lunch around including a source of protein, a fruit and/or vegetable, a carbohydrate, and some fat, you will have made a great, nutritious lunch!

For school snack ideas visit Nutrition 411.

*Due to allergies, some schools do not allow peanut butter. Alternatives such as Wowbutter® may be allowed.

Rebecca Larson

About Rebecca Larson

Rebecca works in Vanderhoof and the surrounding communities as a dietitian. She was born in the north and returned after her schooling. Rebecca loves tobogganing with her daughter in the winter, gardening and camping in the summer and working on her parents cattle ranch in her spare time.


Attention parents! Do you have your back-to-school routines planned out?

Collage of kids going back to school.

Many thanks to the Northern Health nurses who sent in their family back-to-school photos! How can you make back-to-school healthy?

As summer holidays wind down, excitement of the new school year is on the horizon. Getting ready for back-to-school season can be a stressful and challenging time for parents and families. Establishing (or re-establishing) healthy routines is an important step to making the transition back to school happy and successful for the entire family.

Consistent routines help children to feel safe and secure and teach them to know what is expected of them. To establish routines, begin practicing them a couple of weeks prior to the start of school. Remember to be positive role models for your children. Getting a new school year off to a good start can influence their attitude, confidence, and performance both socially and academically.

Try to ensure that you incorporate healthy eating, physical activity, and adequate rest and sleep into your family routines as you gear up for school. Start each morning off with a nutritious breakfast for everyone. Evidence shows that kids who eat a healthy breakfast do better in school, have increased concentration and have more energy. Also remember that snacks and lunches can be just as healthy as breakfast! Involving children in planning and preparing their lunch provides a chance for them to learn about healthy eating.

Collage of kids going back to school

Many thanks to the Northern Health nurses who sent in their family back-to-school photos! How can you make back-to-school healthy?

Along with healthy eating, be sure to encourage your young ones to be physically active for at least 60 minutes every day. Spend time together being active as this will contribute to reducing screen time for yourself and your children. It also avoids unnecessary sedentary behaviour.

Ensuring that children get enough sleep (9-10 hours/night) is also important throughout the school year. Adequate sleep is essential to healthy growth and development. Sleep helps to promote alertness, memory and performance. This is why it is so important to establish consistent bedtime routines that will make it easier for your child to relax, fall asleep, and sleep through the night.

Remember that families are unique and there is no one-size-fits-all back-to-school routine. Choosing routines that will work for your family and sticking to them is what’s most important.

What does your back-to-school routine look like?

  • Make bedtime the same every night.
  • Plan for healthy meals.
  • Limit screen time.
  • Talk with your child every day.
  • Teach your child about safety.
  • Encourage independence.
  • Make homework a routine.
  • Prepare the night before.

This article was originally published in the August 2015 issue of A Healthier You magazine.

Karen Wonders

About Karen Wonders

Karen was born and raised in Ottawa and over the last 30 years has lived in various cities and communities in Alberta and B.C. She has a nursing degree from the University of Victoria and currently lives and works in Prince George as a Public Health Nursing Program Manager. Karen is a strong advocate for the health of children and youth with her primary focus being in the area of "healthy schools". She is a director on the board of the Directorate of Agencies for School Health, which adds great value and is complementary to her. In her spare time, Karen enjoys travelling, spending time with her family and friends, and taking long walks with her dog Theodore.


Northern balance

Young woman with two dogs in a forest

For Ashley, having access to nature just a few steps away in Prince George was crucial to finding a balance last year.

Last year was a busy time to say the least. For some reason, I thought that it would be a great idea to take a master’s program full time while working full time. I wouldn’t recommend it! That said, I know for a fact that if I lived anywhere other than northern B.C., this would have been not only difficult but totally impossible. Looking back on last year, because of the region where I lived, I actually led a seriously awesome lifestyle. One of the biggest pluses has been that when my brain was absolutely jam-packed with school lectures and work reports, I could walk to the end of my street and be in the calming stillness of nature surrounded by trees, birds, and a friendly neighbourhood moose or two.

In my six years in Prince George, I have never been as thankful to live here as I have in the past year. Getting this degree while working full time and maintaining a high level of mental wellness would not have been possible anywhere else. Some of the biggest factors that have made this possible for me include affordability, my minimal commute, and instant access to nature.

Two moose in a yard.

Occasionally, the chance to observe a moose or two would provide a well-needed study break for Ashley.

In the Lower Mainland or southern parts of B.C., there would be no way I could afford to pay for school without loans and with my full-time school and work schedule, it would be impossible to get from A to B on time. On top of this, I’d be crammed into a tiny apartment. The most important thing for me, however, has been the ability to get away from it all: to take my dog on daily walks in the bush and to be able to spend almost every weekend at a cabin, on a hiking trail, or on a ski slope or trail because it is all so close.

One thing I have learned in class is that your body takes an average of 14 minutes to adjust its frequency to its surroundings and that nature has a low, calming frequency. When pulling out my hair about research papers, exams, and statistics, the ability to calm my body’s frequency and clear my head with 14 minutes in nature has been a total lifesaver. When my “southern” friends ignorantly scoff at where I live, I simply ask them how renting, long commutes, and being broke while being trapped in the rat race is going for them. Then I tell them that I’m going to have a beer on my back deck, watch the moose in my backyard, and read a book in awesome tranquility.

Ashley Ellerbeck

About Ashley Ellerbeck

Ashley has been a recruiter for Northern Health since 2011 and absolutely loves her job and living in northern B.C. Ashley was born and raised in Salmon Arm and then obtained her undergraduate degree at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops before completing her master's degree at UNBC. When not travelling across Canada recruiting health care professionals, Ashley enjoys being outside, yoga, cooking, real estate, her amazing friends, and travelling the globe. (Ashley no longer works at Northern Health, we wish her all the best.)


Share your story!

We want to highlight the lasting impact of teachers and coaches on the health and wellness of northerners by sharing stories about the positive influence of school experiences, and WE NEED YOUR HELP! Will you share your story?

These stories will be highlighted in a new resource from the Every Child and Coach a Winner (ECCAW) program, which aims to support the health and wellness of children in schools across the north. ECCAW equips ‘coaches’ with key health messages to engage children in their own health, preparing them to become healthy, responsible adults while supporting teachers to create a healthy school.

Your story, however brief, serves as an important reminder about the role of school staff, educators and coaches in the health and wellness of young people.

As an example, here’s what George Wiens in Dawson Creek says:

“As a grade nine student, I had a very dynamic English teacher. It was the first time I had experienced interactive study sessions, where I leaned philosophy and history intertwined and tied to the literature from the curriculum. After school our English teacher would take a group of us interested students to the tennis courts where he taught us how to play while continuing to learn and discuss English topics. He set different expectations for learning. We were challenged to think and act independently, to pull together why we thought and did things and to defend the actions we took. It was an incredible mentoring process that went beyond the normal hours and expectations of a classroom. I don’t think he would have called himself a coach, but he was coaching in a different way, challenging us as students and young adults. This is an experience that remains vivid and impactful for me.”

Having your voice and the stories of our colleagues and friends will strengthen this initiative and ensure that northern voices are represented in this resource.

Email your story to or post it as a comment on this post.

More info: I previously shared a blog post that describes more about ECCAW here:

Julia Stephenson

About Julia Stephenson

Julia is a master’s of public health graduate working with the 2015 Canada Winter Games. She is passionate about upstream health and creating environments that support well-being. Julia grew up in Ontario, but feels at home in B.C., and is embracing the move north with all the opportunities for outdoor activity. She enjoys hiking, camping, canoeing, swimming, and being outside exploring new places.


Was your health or lifestyle positively influenced by a school experience?

Young Julia

Julia remembers being positively influenced by her field hockey coach when she was a young girl – share your story!

In talking with colleagues and friends about Every Child and Coach a Winner (ECCAW), an initiative I’m involved in developing at Northern Health (more to come about the initiative in a bit!), I’ve been surprised by how many vivid memories people have of their teachers and coaches – what they said or how their actions positively impacted health and lifestyle, at the time and into the future.

It might be a coach, at the final game of a senior athlete’s career that spoke inspirationally about finding activity you enjoy beyond your high school sports career, or a school that created a supportive environment for phys-ed by ensuring safe and comfortable showering and changing spaces. The memory that continues to come to mind for me is of a high school coach’s support off the field. It was a simple thing – my field hockey coach spoke well of me and advocated on my behalf to a fellow teacher. It was hearing that she was in my corner, had faith in me, and cared enough to look out for me that continues to this day to resonate with me.

Schools are often a setting where our community comes together. From a population health perspective, the school setting is an important place for Northern Health to work in a spirit of collaboration and innovation. The population health approach is a foundational principle of the ECCAW initiative, which is what we’re developing to bring “the Northern way of caring” to schools in our region.

Research consistently affirms that health and education are connected. Children and youth can achieve their highest potential when their physical, mental, intellectual and emotional health is supported; and in turn, learning has a positive influence on student’s health (Healthy Schools BC, 2011).

This is where ECCAW comes in. We recognize that coaching is a way of being and that school staff are important coaches for children and youth. We are working in collaboration, developing a resource to support school staff in building healthy northern schools. We focus on six main health topics: healthy eating, active living, injury prevention, tobacco use, problematic substance use and mental wellness; we want to equip teachers, coaches and schools with the key messages and encourage schools to think about how they can build healthy school environments. This project is coming at an important time for northern B.C. as we gear up for the 2015 Canada Winter Games and we hope this project will help to create a health legacy after the Games!

Now, we’d like your help. We would like to hear stories from northern people about how their school, teacher, activity leader or sports coach supported health in these areas.

Do you have a memorable moment from your school years where something your school or a school staff member said or did positively impacted your health or lifestyle?

We’d like to hear from you! The responses we receive will be incorporated into the ECCAW resource and will be important illustrations of the impact of schools on the short- and long-term health, lifestyle and well-being of students.

Comment below or email Julia at before August 31, 2013.

For more information on Comprehensive School Health, visit Healthy Schools BC’s website.

Julia Stephenson

About Julia Stephenson

Julia is a master’s of public health graduate working with the 2015 Canada Winter Games. She is passionate about upstream health and creating environments that support well-being. Julia grew up in Ontario, but feels at home in B.C., and is embracing the move north with all the opportunities for outdoor activity. She enjoys hiking, camping, canoeing, swimming, and being outside exploring new places.


What’s for lunch?

Cutting vegetables for lunch.

Including vegetables in your child’s lunch is important to their overall health!

When I think back to my elementary school days, lunches were certainly a highlight. The entire school would file down to the lunchroom/gymnasium with our lunch pails for 30 minutes of socializing, and of course, eating. The food was brought from home (no hot lunch programs in our town) and consisted of the usual lunch pail fare of the eighties: squashed peanut butter and jam sandwiches, tetra pack fruit punches, a bruised apple (that would end up coming back home usually) and leftover Halloween candy (which would not).

I packed my own lunches and distinctly remember being jealous of the kids whose parents took the time and creativity to make their lunches special. Thermoses of warm leftover soup and spaghetti, veggies and dip, homemade banana bread and salads were uncommon sights in my lunches and enviable! My single dad who worked shift work would take us grocery shopping, buy us the convenience foods we saw on TV, and then the rest was up to us. In fact, I wonder if my dad has any idea what we really ate back then?

What made me reminisce about this was hearing about 9 year- old Martha Payne from Scotland, who started her own blog about lunch, called Never Seconds. In order to bring attention to the quality of food served in Scottish school cafeterias, she started taking a picture of her lunch daily and then critiquing it. She has caught the attention of the international media, created a platform for discussion about food in schools and receives an influx of photos daily from around the world of what people (and kids in particular) are eating for lunch.

Luckily in B.C., we have guidelines around what types of healthy food and beverages can be sold to children in schools. We have wonderful programs like the Farm to School Salad Bar and the School Fruit and Vegetable Nutrition Program, where kids are exposed to new foods and encouraged to eat more produce. However, not all schools have cafeterias or hot lunch programs. Not all schools have salad bars. Some kids are still packing their lunches from home (albeit without the pb&j), or in the case of secondary schools, heading off campus to local fast food establishments.

The times have changed, and our understanding of the importance of feeding children well has grown. We lead busy lives and convenience is key, but are we sacrificing quality and health for a little more time? I’ll take a page from Martha Payne then and ask, what are you (and more importantly, your children) eating for lunch today?

Holly Christian

About Holly Christian

Holly Christian is a Regional Lead for Population Health. She has a passion for healthy living and health promotion and is a foodie at heart. Originally from Ontario, she has fully embraced northern living, but enjoys the warmth of the sun and the sound of the ocean. She swims, bikes and runs, and just completed her first marathon.