Setting Children and Families Up for Success: 2018 Scholarship Shortlist (AB)

Jordyn Goobie

University of Calgary (Medicine Hat College) – Bachelor of Nursing – 2020

From the moment of conception, the human body is constantly growing and changing to adapt to the environment. The development of the brain is considered to be the most intricate and research has indicated that the development of the prefrontal cortex of the brain is not complete until the early 20’s. The prefrontal cortex in the brain is associated with humans’ ability to make decisions, make judgment calls, think and express their personality (McKinley, O’Loughlin, Bidle, 2016, p.504). Adults have a greater ability to understand the importance of supporting a healthy lifestyle and the impact this has to support disease prevention. Therefore, health education needs to be focused on both the child and parents as a whole to support optimal outcomes.
The first step to engaging and having a positive impact on children is to educate their parents or caregivers which will ultimately provide their children with the environment to support a healthy lifestyle. Education and support needs to be provided to all family members, ensuring programs are in place to introduce healthy living concepts throughout all stages of a child’s life.
In collaboration with other health professionals, Registered Nurses (RN’s) have an opportunity to work with children and families in various settings. Examples of settings to connect with patients regarding healthy choices include prenatal and medical appointments, delivery and postpartum care of an infant, immunizations and school health programs and even unscheduled emergency department visits. Working with families in a variety of settings, including the schools, supports ongoing, consistent education and support throughout the families overall health journey. For the purpose of this essay, childhood obesity, physical activity and sexual health education will be the main education strategies I feel are a priority for RN’s to focus on.

Childhood Obesity

The Government of Canada (2018) reported that in 2017 the rates of obesity in children aged 5-17 had risen to 30 percent (p.1). With the rates of childhood obesity steadily climbing, so do the risks of complications such as cardiopulmonary disease, diabetes, and asthma. These complications lead to a substantial impact on the healthcare system in terms of cost, time and the overall patient satisfaction. Educating families and children from an early age on proper nutrition based on the Canadian Food Guide and healthy lifestyle choices to support the individual’s culture and income level, would improve awareness and a significant decline in the number of obesity cases. In addition to education, there needs to be healthy food programs for children in daycares, playschools and throughout their school-age years. Changes need to be consistent and become the norm to support lifelong positive outcomes. Educating teachers and caregivers on the importance of healthy eating will support the continuation of this reinforcement and ongoing support to implement lifestyle changes for the whole family. We need to engage our children to make healthy choices and to be part of the change, so they continue making positive choices for the rest of their lives. This means having them help pick their meals, help with meal prep and cooking time and the overall family experience to eat together. They need to learn how to include all the necessary food groups and understanding they can still eat the high sugar foods but in moderation. By having programs in place that focus on the overall experience, we are passing on valuable life skills and improving nutritional health for the entire family.

Physical Activity

However, while nutrition is a major factor in children’s health, it must be paired with a healthy amount of exercise every single day. If healthcare professionals can educate families on the importance of staying active and maintaining a healthy diet, the rates of childhood obesity would fall dramatically. Schools must ensure there are programs in place to engage children in physical activity for at least 60 minutes every day to support a healthy lifestyle.

Sexual Health Education

Providing sexual health education in schools for teens is vital for preventive healthcare to have an impact. Teens will choose to engage in sexual activity when they feel ready. As an RN it is important to provide teens the necessary information to enable them to make informed decisions. Teaching young adults about the risks and consequences of having sex and providing them with tools to engage in safe sex is imperative to supporting their sexual health. As
previously discussed, the prefrontal cortex is not yet fully grown during the teen years and there is a risk of decisions being made in an instant without much thought. This can lead to poor choices regarding sex and the lack of understanding the full extent of the consequences.

Schools can be the only contact some students have to receive this education and support. Teens have the right to have access to education regarding sexual health and if this information will enable informed educated life decisions. RN’s who have this specialized education on topics such as sexually transmitted infections (STI’s) and the consequences of teen pregnancy can talk to teens and develop a trusting relationship to support providing them with education and connections for their ongoing questions or needs.

Conclusion

Having an awareness and understanding of these three health initiatives that need to be focused on for families and children, enables me to continue to learn about programs in place with my ongoing nursing education and about the opportunities for developing new programs to meet the needs in the future. The information I am learning now regarding childhood obesity, physical activity and sexual health has brought forward an awareness for the need to support the continuation of these essential programs that have such an impact on our overall society. Being an active member in programs with hospitals and schools will allow me to develop a close connection with children to support their continued growth and understanding of the importance of their own health: eating right, exercising and practicing safe sex throughout their entire lives. It will make a difference.

 

References

McKinley, M.P., O’Loughlin, V.D., Bidle, T.S. (2016). Anatomy and Physiology: An Integrative Approach, (2), 504-505.

Government of Canada. (2018). Tackling obesity in Canada: Childhood obesity and excess weight rates in Canada. Retrieved from https://www.canada.ca/en/publichealth/ services/publications/healthy-living/obesity-excess-weight-rates-canadianchildren.html