Healthy Living in the North

Healthy schools matter

Once again the summer has whizzed by and it’s time to think about the new school year! Hopefully you enjoyed a healthy, happy summer and had a chance to share what wellness means to you.

A couple weeks ago, Emilia shared information about school nutrition but there is so much more to healthy schools! A healthy school is one that creates a healthy setting for learning, playing, and working. Students have opportunities in all parts of their school experience to develop healthy habits, including physical, mental, social and intellectual.

Comprehensive School Health

Northern Health has adopted the internationally recognized Comprehensive School Health framework that is promoted provincially by Healthy Schools BC. In this approach, it is not just about what happens in the classroom; it involves the whole school environment, addressing four interrelated areas of focus:

  • Social and Physical Environment
  • Teaching and Learning
  • Partnerships and Services
  • Healthy School Policy

When the school’s actions are coordinated across these areas, the impact on student health and learning is so much greater. Here are some benefits of this flexible and adaptable approach:

  • Better health & well-being for students, educators & staff
  • Increased feelings of support from school
  • Improved behaviours and healthy choices at home & in the community
  • Increased understanding of connections between curriculum and real life

Healthy Schools in Action

Think this all sounds complicated? Here are some examples of schools across the north that are leveraging grants to fund some great health related projects that show Comprehensive School Health in action.


The Chetwynd Social Planning Society partnered with the Moberly Lake after school program to provide opportunities for children to learn drumming.


The Valemount Elementary School Parent Advisory Council (PAC) purchased snowshoes for students to borrow so they can get outside for fresh air, sunshine, and exercise.


The Sk’aadgaa Naay Elementary School in Skidegate purchased needed supplies & equipment for teaching students to grow and preserve food.

These are just a few great examples! Many northern schools have shared their success stories with Healthy Schools BC. Visit Healthy Schools BC for more stories about healthy schools in our region!


Heather Ouellette

About Heather Ouellette

Heather is a Registered Nurse currently working in Population Health as the Regional Nursing Lead, Healthy Schools. Past work experiences include Public Health and teaching nursing at UNBC and in a previous life in Edmonton, home care and acute care nursing. When not outside adventuring with her friends and dogs, she likes to play in her garden during summer and sew quilts and garments in winter.


It matters!

This blog was co-authored by Cindy Gjerde (Regional Nursing Lead Tobacco Reduction).

This summer, we want to know what wellness means to you! Share a  photo, story, drawing, or video explaining what wellness means to you for a chance to win a grand prize! To inspire you, we’ve featured regular wellness content on the Northern Health Matters blog all summer long!

Teens. How do we keep them safe, happy, engaged, and AWAY from tobacco, cannabis, alcohol and other drugs?  As a woman who has spent her career working in mental health and substance use services, and as a parent to two adorable little girls, I ask myself this question daily. While there is no script I can give you, there are some key considerations to tuck into your parenting/coaching/teaching playbook.

  • Self-esteem matters: Teens need to feel empowered, confident, and like they contribute and are important.
  • Resiliency matters: Showing, supporting, and guiding teens through tough times teaches them that tough times have an end point, and they have power in how they deal with the tough stuff.
  • Connectedness matters: Encourage teens to be and stay connected to parents, friends, neighbours, teachers, coaches, leaders, grandparents.
  • Safe spaces matter: Safe places are more than ones that are physically safe (although that’s part of it). Mental and emotional health promoting spaces are warm, welcoming of diversity, free of discrimination and violence, places that are substance-free, and encourage young people to be themselves.

    teens boxing

    Teens need safe places that are warm, welcoming of diversity, free of discrimination and violence, substance-free, and that encourage them to be themselves.

Prevent, delay and reduce use

We know that the longer we prevent teens from using substances, the better armed they are in preventing the disease of addiction. We also know that substance use during adolescence can interfere with important developmental changes. So what can we do to prevent them from using in the first place?

  • Talk to them about tobacco, alcohol, marijuana and other drugs.
  • Respond positively to your child’s/teen’s interests.
  • Involve your teen in activities and chores that grow their abilities.
  • Encourage your teen to get a part-time job or volunteer.
  • Support them during their tough times – use comforting language, and affirming statements.
  • Model responsible substance use (if substances are part of your life).
  • Help them learn to make and keep friends.
  • Support them to try new things and keep active.

Resources to educate yourself and your teens:

Things to be on the lookout for:

  • Change in mood or behaviour
  • Change in friends
  • Isolating themselves
  • Dropping grades or loss of interest
  • Changes in sleeping patterns
  • Signs of substance use: smell of tobacco, cannabis, alcohol
  • Skipping school or work
  • Need for money
  • Finding drug paraphernalia in the home

Where to get help:

Visit your family physician or health care provider for a referral/recommendation to local resources such as:

Stacie Weich

About Stacie Weich

Stacie Weich is the Regional Mental Wellness and Prevention of Substance Harms Lead for Northern Health’s Population Health team. A passion for people and wellness has driven her to pursue a career in mental health and substance use. The first 10 years of her career were spent at a non-profit in Quesnel. Shen then moved to Prince George to join Northern Health in 2008. Stacie has fulfilled many roles under the mental health and substance use umbrella since then (EPI, ED, NYTC, COAST, AADP, YCOS). In her off time Stacie enjoys spending time with her husband, two daughters, and two dogs, and other family and friends in beautiful northern BC!


Surviving and thriving Phys. Ed-in school and beyond!

This summer, we want to know what wellness means to you! Share a  photo, story, drawing, or video explaining what wellness means to you for a chance to win a grand prize! To inspire you, we’ve featured regular wellness content on the Northern Health Matters blog all summer long!


Social connections and a supportive environment are key elements of a successful physical activity program.

As a teen, Physical Education (PE) was my most dreaded class. I went to a very small school, whose focus was not on developing physical literacy skills, and so I missed out on the chance to really explore a variety of sports and activities. I was mediocre at best in the few team sports I did try, so by the time I made the transition into a larger high school with more opportunities, I didn’t have the skills to “make the team.”

At my new school, I had one semester left of mandatory PE class, and this is where my anxiety really bloomed. Not only did I lack the basic skills that most of my classmates had from receiving more vigorous PE training growing up, but I was painfully shy and failing to fit in with the “cool crowd,” while also struggling with the oh-so-common issue of body image. Intimidated and nauseous are two of the best words to describe me in this setting.

In time, I established a solid group of friends, but I couldn’t be done with PE soon enough. The irony of the fact that my current job is to promote increased physical activity is not lost on me! Then again, how many adolescent girls actually liked PE? My interest in physical activity came in later years, and for that I count myself lucky, because that’s clearly not always the case.

woman running

Everyone is unique and needs the opportunity to try different activities to find the right fit for them.

Generally, physical activity levels start dropping in teen years, and the drop is much greater for girls than for boys. A recent study showed that only 2% of Canadian girls between the ages of 12 and 17 are getting the recommended 60 minutes of daily physical activity! Why is that? There are many possible reasons for decreasing physical activity levels in adolescent girls (check yes to all that apply, or applied, to you):

  • Lifestyle changes: Getting a drivers’ license, improving technology allowing instant communication, and the increasing need to “fit in” with friends can all add up to less activity.
  • Lack of time: Physical activity is often the first thing to go as teens begin to feel increasing pressure to get good grades, while juggling multiple other commitments such as jobs in and outside of the home, family, and time with friends.
  • Lack of access: Physical activity opportunities tend to decrease in high school. Transportation and cost (of equipment as well as to sign up) are also barriers.
  • Feeling self-conscious and/or unskilled: In addition to regular old body image related self-consciousness, there’s also the anxiety that comes with not knowing how to play a sport well, or even at all. If you combine any of the above with a little “healthy competition,” this can be a recipe for disaster. A negative experience can make participants way less likely to be interested in “giving it another go.”

Children and youth who grow up being active are more likely to become active adults. So, how can we make physical activity and sport a more positive experience for youth, setting them up to develop healthy, active lifestyles that will follow them into adulthood? Here are a few ideas that are applicable to all young participants:

soccer player shaking mans hand

Recognizing the positive impact of physical activity on mental well-being supports the development of life-long participation.

  • Focus on fun! There is a time and place for competition – some people thrive on it – but if physical activity and sport are not made to be enjoyable when first introduced, repeat customers will be far less likely. Creating a low-pressure environment that focuses on building skills and having fun will help individuals feel more confident in a group setting.
  • Variety! In order to find our niche, we need to be able to try a variety of activities to find what fits our interests and abilities best. Again, if we find something we enjoy, we are far more likely to stick with it. Also, introducing new activities allows individuals to learn the skills together, so no one person should be significantly better (or worse) than the rest.
  • Focus on feeling good, not looking good or losing weight: Physical activity releases endorphins that make you feel fantastic, so as well as improving your overall health and getting stronger, it also boosts your mood and self-esteem.
  • Encourage physical activity and healthy choices during leisure time, with family, friends, or individually: Opportunities for participation often disappear altogether after graduation from high school. Having some involvement that is not dependent on the school setting helps smooth the transition into an active adult life.

What motivates you to stay active in the midst of the whirlwind that is daily life? Do you have any ideas for how we can support our younger counterparts to have the confidence and desire to participate in more physical activity and sport?

Gloria Fox

About Gloria Fox

Gloria Fox is the Regional Physical Activity Lead for Northern Health’s Population Health team. She is a graduate of the University of Alberta’s faculty of PE & Recreation, and until beginning this role has spent most of her career working as a Recreation Therapist with NH. She has a passion for helping others pursue an optimal leisure lifestyle and quality of life at all stages of their lives. In order to maintain her own health (and sanity), Gloria enjoys many outdoor activities, including hiking, camping, canoeing, and cycling, to name a few. She is a self-proclaimed foodie and her life’s ambition is to see as much of the world as possible.


Teeth matter

This summer, we want to know what wellness means to you! Share a  photo, story, drawing, or video explaining what wellness means to you for a chance to win a grand prize! To inspire you, we’ve featured regular wellness content on the Northern Health Matters blog all summer long!

Spirit the caribou in front of baby teeth poster

Baby teeth are important for jaw development, chewing, speech development, and spacing. Mouth care for kids starts sooner than you may realize!

What would we do without our teeth?

Strong, healthy teeth are a vital part of our overall health and daily living. They are a unique part of our bodies. They come in all shapes, colours, and sizes, and help us with jaw development, to chew, to speak, and even to smile.

Yes, teeth matter!

Caring for your teeth is very important and needs to be done every day.  As a community dental hygienist with Northern Health, my role is to help educate parents and children in keeping their teeth healthy for a lifetime.

Here are some simple oral health tips I share often:

  • Help your children brush twice daily with a fluoride toothpaste.
  • Lift your child’s lip one time a month and check for new teeth or signs of decay.
  • Bring your child to your family dentist when they are around one year old.
  • Offer water instead of sugar drinks when they’re thirsty.
  • Offer a variety of healthy foods and limit sugary snacks.
Spirit mascot in front of poster

You can keep your child’s teeth healthy by brushing them in the morning and before bed, starting as soon as those teeth erupt. Use a little smear of toothpaste that has fluoride in it.

Teeth really do matter. I have seen the devastating effects that tooth decay can have on our health. Decay can cause loss of appetite and loss of sleep, ultimately leading to delays in growth, learning and development. It can affect our desire to smile and to socialize. If tooth decay is left to abscess, serious health issues may develop and may require antibiotics and other medications,-even hospitalization. Loss of schooling and /or work may occur.

At Northern Health, we provide free dental screenings and fluoride varnish treatments to children six years and under. We can also help connect you with a family dentist.

The good news is tooth decay is preventable and with proper daily oral hygiene and a limited sugary diet, your smile can last you a lifetime.

For more information on how to protect your oral health check out the following resources:

Carmen Gottschling-Aceto

About Carmen Gottschling-Aceto

Carmen is a Community Dental Hygienist living and working in beautiful Prince Rupert. She joined the Northern Health dental team part-time in 2012 and continues to work part-time in private practice. She loves working with families and educating them on good oral health practices. Born and raised on the north coast, she has an ultimate passion for fishing and hunting which she shares with her husband. They are raising three active teenage children. As a family they enjoy attending and coaching the kids various activities, camping and just spending quality time together.


Staying safe on the water this summer

This summer, we want to know what wellness means to you! Share a photo, story, drawing, or video explaining what wellness means to you for a chance to win a grand prize! To inspire you, we’ve featured regular wellness content on the Northern Health Matters blog all summer long!

I was out on our boat last weekend and it was wonderful! I love the sound of the water splashing up against the boat, the warm sun on my face, the wind whipping through my hair, and the smell of fresh, clean air. I love watching the other boats go by; there is such a variety, from fishing boats, ski boats, and pontoon boats, to pedal boats, kayaks, canoes, and stand up boards. No matter what type of boat we come across, the one constant out on the lake is the happiness of those playing in, on, and near the water. The smiles, giggles, and friendly waves as we pass by are infectious and I feel connected to everyone who chooses to be out there.

children wearing lifejackets, fishing off boat

Close by isn’t close enough. Wear your lifejacket in, on, and around the water.

As I was sitting at the back of the boat, I was thinking about this sense of community that comes from a shared love of the fun and adventure of being out on the water. I care about my community and the people who help me feel connected to the joy of living in northern BC, and I believe every person deserves to stay safe every time they are out on the water. Just as seat belts and child safety seats are a key part of keeping us safe on the roads, lifejackets are critical to keeping us safe and keeping the water playtime fun.

Lifejackets save lives. They are like round-trip insurance. When everyone wears a lifejacket and the water fun is done for the day, everyone comes in safely. But, as the Canadian Red Cross highlights, of those who drown every year while boating, over 87% were not wearing a lifejacket when they drowned. Close by isn’t close enough.   Lifejackets or personal flotation devices (PFDs) are the accessory that everyone in the boat, on the water, by the dock, or at the water’s edge has to wear. It is important to wear the right size lifejacket for the right activity, every time, no matter how calm the water or how strong a swimmer you are.

children being pulled on a water tube

Lifejackets are critical to keeping everyone safe and keeping the water playtime fun. 

As we enjoy a summer of wellness, please join me in committing to keeping our communities and water fun safe. Wear your lifejacket or PFD every time you are out enjoying beautiful, natural northern BC.

For more tips on swimming, boating, and water safety, check out:

Denise Foucher

About Denise Foucher

Denise is an injury prevention coordinator with Northern Health’s population health team and is passionate about working towards health and wellness for everyone in Northern B.C. When not at work, Denise can be found out at the lake, walking her dog, planning her next travel adventure, or snuggled in a cozy chair with a good book.


Take the clue… don’t do the chew!

This summer, we want to know what wellness means to you! Share a  photo, story, drawing, or video explaining what wellness means to you for a chance to win a grand prize! To inspire you, we’ve featured regular wellness content on the Northern Health Matters blog all summer long!

Thlittle boy up for bat baseballis is the slogan that a little leaguer from Darien, Connecticut submitted to win a spit tobacco education program slogan contest. It was part of an awareness campaign to help young people avoid the harmful effects of spit tobacco that causes oral cancer, gum disease, tooth decay, and nicotine addiction.

In our northern BC region, the use of smokeless/chewing tobacco is most prevalent in young men; they often start using these products when they are teens and involved in team sports. Once they are hooked, it’s hard to stop.

Although there are fewer people smoking cigarettes in Canada, the sales of smokeless tobacco have remained relatively unchanged over the last 15 years.

Tobacco companies target young people with messages to promote their products and often associate spit tobacco with sports. They have spent millions of dollars per year to promote their products to teen boys to make them believe they cannot be real men unless they chew.boy leaning against fence

We can help break the association of spit tobacco with sports such as baseball and hockey. Major league baseball recognizes health risks of chewing tobacco and almost half of their stadiums are now tobacco free. Rogers Centre in Toronto is next!

Both of my grandchildren, ages 6 and 8, who live in Prince George, are playing baseball this season and I am happy that I have not observed the use of spit tobacco on the field or in the stands.

Let’s “Knock Tobacco Out of the Park!”

In this story, as in most public health messages, “tobacco use” refers to the use of commercial tobacco products like cigarettes and chewing tobacco as opposed to traditional uses of tobacco.