Health district promoting healthy living

By Tanya Collier Macdonald
Cape Breton Post Front page
Thurs., May 20, 2004

SYDNEY - Drop that french fry and start walking, Cape Breton.

Three new healthy initiatives are coming, via the Cape Breton District Health Authority now that it has its hands on $330,000 in government funding aimed at promoting better health on the island.

The first is to develop plans and policies that promote improved nutrition at schools and workplaces through the project Healthy Food Choices.

The second will be to expand an already successful Communities in Motion project currently delivered by the district's community health boards.

The final initiative is Building Healthier Communities, a project that will put community health plans into action with help from the district's staff and public health services.

Health Promotion Minister Rodney MacDonald made the funding announcement in Sydney, Wednesday. He said the island's health challenges, including high levels of chronic illness, have been researched and studied enough. "This is about moving forward into the future."

Three levels of government fund projects

The funding is part of a $71-million cost-share agreement among the three levels of government for efforts to cleanup the Sydney tar ponds and coke ovens sites. Most of that money has already been spent on projects already completed.

Frank Potter, director of operations for the provincial Sydney Tar Ponds Agency, said discussions with the island's health community encouraged governments to spend the remnants of the cost-share agreement on strategies for health promotion. "We need to look forward and promote healthy lifestyles."

The Cape Breton district is currently ranked the unhealthiest in Nova Scotia. John Malcom, its chief executive officer, said he hopes to turn that statistic around and make island residents the healthiest in the province within five years. "It's really a significant challenge," he said.

However, residents know what changes are needed. Malcom said communities have to raise the importance of healthier eating and healthier communities. Surveys conducted by the district show only 18 per cent of the population has five servings of fruits and vegetables a day. And 48 per cent of those asked consume fruits and vegetables less than twice a day.

Promoting public policies for healthier eating is also essential, he said. The Cape Breton Regional Hospital cafeteria once cooked 25 cases of french fries a week. That amount has dropped to two. Comparatively, the cafeteria once purchased about three buckets of fruit each week. That amount has since increased to 25 buckets.

Food insecurity is also a factor, said Malcom. Twenty-two per cent of residents surveyed said it's too costly to eat properly - especially those earning minimum wage.

As far as getting communities on the move, Malcom said Margaree residents are a good example of what can be accomplished. It now has about 100 members taking part in tai chi each week.

Mary Daly, public health nutritionist, said she's excited about the upcoming initiatives, expected to be implemented within the next 12 to 18 months. She said the district has limited resources when it comes to health promotion and the new funding should help relieve that strain.