English Harbour West — The staff of Fitzgerald Academy in English Harbour West did something a little different and very beneficial on their annual parent-teacher night this school year. In addition to the regular activities, they held a Food Forum to promote healthy eating and healthy lifestyles to their students and parents/guardians.
Krista Baker, the principal of Fitzgerald Academy, said that the event was held in partnership with the school’s council and Sandra Dominie, the public health nurse for the area.
Daphne Evans is the chair of the Fitzgerald Academy School Council.
Evans said, “One of our main concerns, as a school council, is the promotion of healthy eating and a healthy lifestyle among our students and parents.
“I talked with Ms. Dominie and Ms. Baker about this over the summer and we decided to hold this forum … during the school’s annual curriculum night (Oct. 19).”
Baker said, “From a school’s perspective, we’ve been prompting healthy eating for a number of school years. We saw this initiative by our school council as a means to invite our parents, and the community, to the forum to emphasize the importance of healthy eating and a healthy lifestyle as they relate to school absenteeism and academics.
“We are hoping that by promoting healthy eating and wellness that we’ll see a drop in our absentee rates. In addition, studies have shown that a healthy, active lifestyle adds to student self-esteem and higher academic achievement.”
Dominie said that it is very important that schools and parents promote healthy eating.
“Central Newfoundland has the highest rates of obesity and diabetes in the country,” she said. “We definitely need to see healthy eating as a main priority in our schools and homes.
“Students certainly need to be among our main target groups in our getting the message out that a healthy lifestyle is very important.”
Added Baker, “Educators know that promoting healthy eating is going to be a long battle, but big changes happen in small steps.
“We need good communication and relationships between students, teachers, parents and communities to effectively promote healthy eating.”
To help with that communication, the school council invited Jill Wheaton and Jerry Knee to address the students and parents during the special event.
Knee is the school health promotion liaison consultant with the Nova Central School Board and Central Health. “The healthy living message needs to be clearly demonstrated to students and parents,” he said. “We also need to promote the importance of physical activity in our lives and to have young people, especially, understand that those two life choices will have great health benefits in their futures.”
Wheaton, a registered dietitian with Central Health, said, “We certainly need to support schools, school councils and parents in their support in promoting the many benefits of healthy, active lifestyles.
“About 71 per cent of adults in Newfoundland and Labrador are overweight or obese and a lot of our children are going the same way. Studies show that obese children are highly likely to remain obese in their adult years.”
Wheaton talked about the role that parents have in helping their children eat healthy.
“Parents have a huge role to play in helping to solve the new epidemic of obesity in our youth. Eating healthy is not necessarily expensive. It involves cutting out junk foods, planning healthy menus, and being smart about how you spend your money.
“We’re seeing too many children today with diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure — these health issues seldom came up in children earlier and parents have to realize the long-term health consequences that result from not being serious about their children’s food choices today.”
Hubert Langdon, the vice-chairman of the Central Nova School Board, said that the board encourages all schools in the district to become actively involved in promoting healthy eating both in the schools and at home. “We all know that students perform better academically when they are healthy and fit,” he said.
Several parents said the idea of Fitzgerald’s school council and staff in holding the Food Forum was a great concept.
“This forum was an excellent idea,” said Darlene Royle. “It’s very important for parents to realize that they have a key role to play in having their children eat healthy.”
Tracey Lawrence added, “Every bit of information schools can get out to parents about this issue is really important. To solve the obesity problem will require the co-operation of a lot of people, and we need to start the process with our youth.”
“I try to provide as much healthy foods at home as I can,” Linda Williams said. “It’s also important that our schools promote this as our students spend a lot of time in schools.
“I hope that parents realize from this forum that they have a significant part to play in reinforcing what schools are trying to do in promoting healthy lifestyles. Parents need to be vigilant in providing healthy foods for their children.”