Starting a conversation: Steps to take to make our communities healthy.

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In response to the latest data showing PEI as having the 3rd highest obesity rates in Canada…

We at Health and Food Matters recognize that this is unfortunate news, however, we believe that now is the time to learn from this and make the appropriate societal changes to begin to improve our health crisis. A big part of the Island culture is eating the foods we love. We do this in our homes, by eating fast food, going to family and community functions, and celebrating different events. We are all surrounded by unhealthy nutritional choices on a daily basis, making it hard to avoid the fatty, salty, and sugary decisions that got us into this situation. Last week, Chief Public Health Officer, Heather Morrison, made a fantastic point stating, “The key to bringing down obesity rates is creating an environment that makes it easier for Islanders to make healthy choices.” Doing this would not only have an effect on obesity, but would accumulate by decreasing many other diseases that are associated with unhealthy lifestyle choices. We live in a very busy society, where too often quantity is considered better than quality, not just in what we eat, but how we work, and use our free time and money. Too much screen time, alcohol consumption, along with long inefficient work days and short lunch breaks, has set us up for exactly what we’re seeing today on PEI. Prince Edward Island is a beautiful place with many wonderful people, however, change takes time on PEI and changing our food culture may be the hardest of them all.

We at HFM believe that we do need to change how we live, but it will take considerable effort from many people, including government officials, healthcare professionals, educational leaders, business owners, managers, parents, and individuals alike. It’s time to think critically about our health…your health, your child’s health and the future health of our province. We feel the best way to start this process is by beginning a conversation about how we can make it easier for people to make healthy decisions.  

If we work together to reshape our Island…pardon the pun, to a place where we celebrate change and take the lead on healthy living practices, we’ll no doubt succeed in making our home a much healthier place for all Islanders.

Tips and ideas that will help start the process from a leadership perspective:

  1. Leaders in work spaces need to encourage and create time for socializing, exercise, decompression and enjoyment of healthy food during a work shift. Employees would be happier/healthier, more energetic, and the quality of work and sense of meaning would most likely improve in a healthier work environment. This is also true for kids in school, as well, and really hits on the point of focusing on quality over quantity.
  2. All restaurants, including fast food chains, should have healthy meal options made from local and organic food, not only helping an individual’s health, but also helping local producers.
  3. PEI is a special place and has the potential to be a leader in healthy living in pretty well every way imaginable. One way to lead is by hosting a global health summit. Inviting many of the global leaders from different health fields to PEI will help develop public confidence that not only is healthy eating possible, but that we truly can be a global leader in this area and take pride in our health rather than trying to ignore the unhealthy reality of it.
  4. We need to create safe places for individuals of lower incomes, people with disabilities, and seniors to exercise and enjoy both the indoors and outdoors. Building areas for these individuals will help empower them and improve their quality of life.
  5. We should rely on GMO as little as possible and ban nicotine, and other addictive substances. We also need to ban added sugars, trans fats, and further limit the amount of preservatives in our food.
  6. Tax unhealthy foods and use the money generated to subsidize the cost of healthy whole foods for people in the lower income brackets.
  7. Schools need to implement more programs aimed at teaching students the who, what, where, and how and about where their food comes from. Charlottetown Rural, Morell Regional, O’Leary, and Westisle are all schools that are beginning to take positive steps in modeling this.
  8. Reading, writing, and arithmetic are considered to be the major priorities in our school system, so let’s have them read about healthy people and lifestyles, write about nutrition, and crunch the numbers about lifestyle and obesity.
  9. Ban energy drinks and pop to people under the age of 18 or outright. Unlike other things we consume, there is little debate as to whether or not these drinks are bad for our health.
  10. Grants and education need to be offered to encourage and entice more farmers to grow organic fruits, vegetables, healthy grains, and legumes. It can’t happen overnight, but as farmers retire, new farmers can take over, adopting organic methods with a greater push for plant foods.

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Things individual people and their families can do to make healthier choices on their own:

  1. Try to buy local nutritious food from farmers markets and local stores. This helps local producers and helps keep people away from processed foods. It also helps to build new relationships.
  2. Prepare meals and snacks, so when “hangry” strikes, you don’t choose the processed meals, high in saturated fats, sodium, and added sugars. Having healthy meals and snacks ready to go is key to avoiding “hangry” all together.
  3. Try to eat a few raw vegetables before every meal. The fiber will help stabilize your hunger and help you make smarter decisions about what and how much you eat.
  4. Drink a tall glass of water before each meal. It will help you feel less hungry and drinking water instead of, well, anything else is a good idea.
  5. Eat legumes. They are full of macronutrients and prepared properly they’re low in sodium and sugar and high in protein and carbohydrates.
  6. Eat whole grains. Pasta, breads, and rice are all very popular, however, eating the refined white versions can lead to extra pounds and digestive problems. Eat the whole grain versions and you’ll see a great difference in your health.
  7. When eating out, try to dine at places that offer dishes served with a variety of locally grown produce and products.
  8. Try to make time to enjoy what you’re eating – don’t rush, and try to eat with company when possible – make eating a social experience.
  9. Ask a health conscious friend or family member for advice on cooking healthy meals. If that person is you, share your ideas and try to help others.
  10. If you have space, grow a garden. If not, use a community garden or volunteer to help at one. It will help you become more aware of what’s on your own plate, give you the satisfaction of helping others, and you’ll no doubt build new friendships.
  11. If you’re spending time on the phone or computer, why not make it time spent educating yourself on how you can improve your health. At healthandfoodmatters.com we offer lots of helpful information, including fantastic articles and recipes to get you started on the right track. We also have lots of programs available to help you, your employees, or loved ones, which will improve their health and prevent disease. Making these changes is a commitment and it can be very difficult to do it on your own, so partner up with someone else who needs change and come see us – we can help you feel great! 
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