Innovation Strategy: Achieving Healthier Weights in Canada's Communities 

From the Public Health Agency of Canada

In Canada, 1 in 3 children are overweight or obese. In 2014, 20% of Canadian adults reported height and weight measurements classifying them as obese. These figures represent a significant increase in people being overweight and obese. This is contributing to the development of chronic (long-term) diseases, such as:

  • diabetes
  • heart disease
  • breast and prostate cancer

The Public Health Agency of Canada's Innovation Strategy has prioritized achieving healthier weights in Canada's communities as a key area for action. It's delivering innovative, evidence-based interventions to address the underlying factors involved in obesity and being overweight.
To date, the projects have engaged:

  • more than 139,000 Canadians in 101 communities, including:
    • 22,000 stakeholders, such as:
      • decision makers
      • health practitioners
    • community members

Areas of focus for Achieving Healthier Weights in Canada's Communities projects include:

  • improving food security conditions in northern Indigenous communities
  • empowering youth toward leadership through culturally relevant activities that promote physical activity
  • building environments to support Canadians to make healthier physical activity and nutrition choices

Funded project timeline

The funded project timeline includes descriptions, durations and number of projects funded in each phase, such as:

  • phase 1: a 1-year duration to design, develop, test and deliver the initial program
    • 37 funded projects
    • phase 1 began in 2011
  • phase 2: up to 4-year duration for full implementation, adaptation and evaluation of the program
    • 11 funded projects
    • phase 2 began in 2013
  • phase 3: a 3-year duration to expand the reach, sustainability and system-wide impact of the project and implement it in new communities
    • programs that were part of phase 2 were invited to be part of the solicitation process for phase 3
    • applications for phase 3 funding in 2016
    • successful phase 3 applicants began in 2017

Phase 3 funded projects

The Innovation Strategy's Achieving Healthier Weights in Canada's Communities projects are reaching Canadians in every province and territory. This includes 7 funded projects in phase 3, the final funding phase.

Active Neighbourhoods Canada/Réseau Quartiers verts

This project is a network of partners that design social and physical environments to support better health outcomes. The focus is to create environments for active transportation in low-income neighbourhoods in Alberta, Ontario and Quebec. Active transportation includes walking and biking.
Program activities include:

  • testing technologies for citizen involvement
  • involving communities in the urban planning process
  • conducting research activities and sharing best practices
  • working with stakeholders in a variety of sectors involved in:
    • creating local action plans specific to community needs   
    • developing ways to get community feedback, such as:
      • street audits
      • community mapping exercises
  • planning and implementing neighbourhood designs, such as:
    • improving access to green spaces
    • improving links within neighbourhoods to improve walkability
    • designing outdoor spaces to be:
      • inviting
      • aesthetically pleasing
      • protected from traffic

In phase 3, the program aims to:

  • reach new communities
  • engage policy- and decision-makers in local work
  • guide long-term changes in the built environment, like roads and parks
  • share knowledge through activities such as:
    • project site showcases
    • training sessions on how to work with local and regional governments

Projected outcomes include:

  • reduced number of injuries  
  • higher levels of daily physical activity  
  • more community participation in civic planning processes
  • physical changes to the built environment of communities
  • policy change to incorporate health into the design of neighbourhoods
  • changes to the ways professionals in city-building sectors engage diverse communities

The program is run by the Montreal Urban Ecology Centre/Centre d'écologie urbaine de Montréal in Montreal, Quebec.
For more information, refer to:

Expanding the Impact and Reach of the Community Food Centre Model

This project addresses:

  • food security
  • health inequality
  • diet-related illness

It does this by building and supporting organizations that provide healthy food, skill-building opportunities and peer support in a welcoming and dignified environment.
Community Food Centres (CFCs) are located in:

  • Calgary, Alberta
  • Perth, Ontario
  • Toronto, Ontario
  • Stratford, Ontario
  • Hamilton, Ontario
  • Winnipeg, Manitoba
  • Dartmouth, Nova Scotia

Program activities include:

  • peer support
  • local cooking classes
  • after school activities  
  • community gardening
  • providing affordable produce markets
  • education and engagement programs
  • hosting annual Food Summits to:
    • bring together community food leaders
    • share best practices and cultivate Canada's Good Food movement

In phase 3, the program aims to:

  • support new community food centres with:
    • communications
    • staff hiring and training 
    • community consultation
    • site and program development
  • help groups involved in different areas across the food security sector to work together by:
    • hosting an online knowledge exchange hub and forum to:
      • learn about the community food centre model
      • connect with other community food organizations
    • offering virtual training sessions on healthy community food programming in dignified spaces
    • helping existing community food centres to mentor new centres and share best practices through site tours and workshops

Projected outcomes include:

  • increased ability of community groups to:
    • offer healthy food programming
    • access best practices and teachings from the food security sector

The program is run by Community Food Centres Canada in Toronto, Ontario.
For more information, refer to:

Our Food Our Health Our Culture: Achieving Healthier Weights Through Healthy and Traditional Foods

This project is a food security program implemented in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. The program aims to support underserved communities, including lower-income Indigenous and new immigrant individuals and families. Support helps to provide them with greater access to healthy and traditional foods.
Program activities include:

  • cooking classes for youth to build traditional food preparation skills  
  • retail initiatives with local grocers to encourage healthy food purchases
  • training for community staff to create healthy food policies and to prepare healthy foods
  • running of local:
    • gardens
    • community freezers
    • Good Food Boxes full of healthy foods at a low cost

In phase 3, the program aims to:

  • expand current project sites and add new sites
  • build community capacity to offer:
    • food literacy classes for youth
    • education for youth based on Indigenous ties to the land
  • educate local staff that run food programs on topics like:
    • meal planning
    • understanding food labels
  • increase the availability and accessibility of healthy and traditional foods

Projected outcomes include:

  • improved skills and attitudes toward healthy, traditional food
  • increased amount of healthy, traditional foods eaten by youth in underserved communities

The program is run by Food Matters Manitoba in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
For more information, refer to:

Our Food: From Pickles to Policy Change

This project aims to promote healthy body weights. It does this by working to:

  • improve food security
  • increase knowledge of healthy behaviours
  • create supportive environments to make it easier to eat healthy foods

It applies a participatory approach involving members of lower-income communities in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.
Program activities include:

  • development of local infrastructure, such as:
    • gardens
    • root cellars
    • greenhouses
  • community workshops to improve food and gardening skills
  • network-building to sustain efforts to promote availability and accessibility of healthier foods
  • creating knowledge products and activities, such as:
    • web and blog posts
    • media engagement
    • story-sharing videos
    • PhotoVoice (a way for community members to share their unique views and experiences through photography)

In phase 3, the program aims to:

  • train staff in community groups to lead food programs
  • engage businesses in community-based food innovations, such as mobile food markets
  • bring together practitioners and business leaders to share and develop:
    • resources
    • knowledge
    • best practices
  • improve and expand approaches to:
    • food security
    • healthy eating in schools and other public institutions
    • community health and local food systems for economic development

Projected outcomes include increased:

  • food knowledge
  • access to healthy food choices
  • number of places where people grow, prepare, share, buy, receive or learn about food

The program is run by the Ecology Action Centre in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
For more information, refer to:

Our Food NL

Our Food NL is an innovative local food security project. It engages rural, remote and Indigenous communities in the design, delivery and evaluation of culturally appropriate interventions in:

  • Baker Lake, Nunavut
  • Nunatsiavut, Newfoundland and Labrador

Program activities include:

  • implementation of a community-led food assessment model that engaged Inuit communities in the creation of programs that address local food security challenges and strengths
  • implementation and evaluation of activities, such as:
    • expansion of the community freezer in Hopedale, Nunatsiavut
    • food skills programs like traditional cooking and local gardening in Hopedale and Rigolet, Nunatsiavut
    • Good Food Box initiative in Rigolet, Nunatsiavut to improve access to healthy and affordable retail food
  • knowledge exchange activities, including:
    • seminars
    • training sessions
    • meetings and events
    • blog and social media posting

In phase 3, the project aims to:

  • adapt an approach developed by participating Inuit communities in Newfoundland and Labrador
  • continue implementing community-led food assessments, including community-driven program:
    • development
    • delivery
    • evaluation
  • move local and regional coordination, planning and commitment on food security
  • strengthen partnerships in the food security sector to work together to address local food security challenges in Newfoundland and Labrador

Projected outcomes include:

  • greater awareness of food security issues in Newfoundland and Labrador
  • increased access to healthy, culturally appropriate food in participating communities
  • strengthened community capacity to design, implement and evaluate food security programs

The program is run by Food First NL based in St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador.
For more information, refer to:

Scaling up Healthy Start-Départ Santé in Saskatchewan and New Brunswick

Healthy Start-Départ Santé is a program that provides resources, tools, training and on-going support to early learning caregivers and educators in both English and French. The program works toward increasing physical activity and healthy eating behaviours in children ages 3 to 5 in Saskatchewan and New Brunswick. The program reaches thousands of children, parents and educators, including at-risk populations.
Program activities include:

  • training workshops for staff to deliver bilingual programming in childcare centres and preschools
  • train-the-trainer activities supporting community facilitators to deliver the program in their communities
  • engaging partners through:
    • knowledge development and exchange
    • evaluation activities that allow for the uptake of key findings
  • developing resources and web-based tools, including:
    • website
    • newsletters
    • social media
    • training manual
    • implementation handbook

In phase 3, the program aims to:

  • deliver support and training programs, including:
    • online training for early childhood educators
    • menu planning support for early learning and childcare centres
    • physical activity and nutrition workshops for parents  
  • deliver culturally appropriate programming for Indigenous and newcomer families
  • conduct policy development activities for healthy eating and physical activity in early learning and childcare centres

Projected outcomes include:

  • improved access to Healthy Start-Départ Santé programming for all families, especially those at-risk
  • increased confidence and ability of parents to engage in physical activity and healthy eating

The program is run by Réseau Santé en français de la Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
For more information, refer to:

Healthy Weights for Children

This project is an education project that supports children from birth to 18 years of age, their parents and care providers on a journey toward healthier weights. The project uses the family education model Healthy Together to deliver weekly skills-building sessions on themes such as:

  • community
  • relationships
  • physical activity
  • food and nutrition

Program areas are in:

  • Alberta
  • Ontario
  • Manitoba
  • Saskatchewan
  • New Brunswick
  • British Columbia
  • Northwest Territories
  • Newfoundland and Labrador

Program activities include:

  • training facilitators to deliver age-based education modules to families
  • ensuring programs are responsive to diverse community needs and cultural contexts by incorporating feedback from:
    • project participants
    • implementation partners
    • the national advisory committee
  • sharing knowledge through:
    • festivals
    • blog posts
    • social media
    • conferences
    • training sessions

In phase 3, the program aims to:

  • support organizations to adopt the Healthy Together family education model
  • use a revised version of Healthy Together that is relevant to vulnerable populations, including:
    • low-income
    • rural and remote
    • Indigenous groups
    • English as a Second Language groups  
  • integrate the Healthy Together model in diverse settings, such as:
    • convenience stores 
    • early years centres
    • Indigenous women support centres
    • immigration and settlement centres

Projected outcomes include:

  • improved quality of life for vulnerable populations by encouraging healthy:
    • food and lifestyle choices
    • relationships between child, family and community
  • health and wellness practice and policy change at all levels, including:
    • societal
    • community
    • organizational

The program is run by The Bridge Youth and Family Services in Kelowna, British Columbia.
For more information, refer to:

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