Alpha St. takes health challenge

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At least 20 families living at the Alpha St. low-income housing complex have joined a health challenge as part of an ongoing public health outreach in the neighbourhood.

Participating families have received pedometers to track the number of steps they take. Starting today, they’ll record their daily counts for eight weeks and then will be entered in draws to win free three-month Y memberships or exercise gear.

The aim is to inspire more physical activity — wearing the pedometer helps people see how much or little exercise they get. Wearing one can motivate people to move more, said the health unit’s Jason Weppler, who’s job is to promote healthier lifestyles. A $2,500 Heart and Stroke grant is helping cover the challenge costs.

“This is certainly a unique challenge to Grey-Bruce (Health Unit) as far as I am concerned, to engage a community such as this is certainly unique. And the response has been great,” he said.

Alpha St. was chosen for the challenge because staff have made contacts in the neighbourhood, so there are a number of community champions for improving health, he said.

Since June 2011, Grey County’s housing department has provided one of its rent-subsidized townhouse units for the Alpha Street Family Resource Centre to use. The centre’s aim is to help residents connect with services they need. Health unit staff there have made community contacts that way.

“Research indicates that populations most affected by the social determinants of health are those who are on social assistance, have a low educational achievement and limited transportation,”says a program review report to the health unit board.

“Transportation can be a barrier” in accessing help, echoed Rod Wyatt, Grey County’s housing director. Having the family resource centre helps deliver programs to Alpha St. residents and others in the broader neighbourhood, he said in an interview.

“And there certainly are a lot of services that are needed in that community,” he said.

Health unit services include dental screening, immunization, baby weight monitoring, parenting advice, bereavement counselling, relationships, healthy cooking and referrals to health care and speech services.

Partners include Keystone Child, Youth and Family Services, United Way of Bruce Grey, Bluewater District School Board, YMCA employment, Canadian Mental Health Association, Ontario Works and the Calvary Church.

An Ontario Early Years Centre in the Alpha St. family centre provides preschoolers and their families a place to meet others. St. Basil’s and Hillcrest schools run a program at the centre to ensure children aged one, two and three are ready when they’re old enough to attend school, Weppler said.

“Only 7% of Canadian children meet recommended physical activity guidelines and only 52% of Grey Bruce adults are considered active,” Weppler said in a news release about the pedometer challenge. “It is known that children are always watching the behaviour of their parents and parental actions may leave a lasting impression.”

Success of the challenge will be measured by enrolment, improvements in activity levels over the eight weeks and evaluation of participating families and their physically activity after eight weeks, though no formal follow-ups are part of this program, Weppler said.




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