Picture of Randy FransooDr Randy Fransoo is a Senior Research Scientist and Acting Associate Director of Research at Manitoba Centre for Health Policy, and an assistant professor in the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Manitoba. He is currently blogging from the 5th International Conference on Recent Advances in the Prevention and Management of Childhood and Adolescent Obesity


Dr. Stuart Shanker of York University opened the second day of the conference today with his refreshingly interactive and compelling keynote on the concept of self regulation and how it is related to obesity. He stressed that self-regulation is not the same as self-control; self-regulation is has deeper physiological roots, and is not at all about ‘willpower’ or similar concepts. Identifying and working to resolve the causes of the underlying stressors that are interrupting self-regulation is the key to addressing this issue, according to Dr Shanker. He spoke about the pervasive and inter-generational impact of toxic stress, which really resonated with conference participants, creating considerable buzz for conversations thereafter.

In the concurrent session on Policy, two speakers provided complementary presentations. Dr Rob Santos (Healthy Child Manitoba Office) talked about the key elements that researchers should think about and work to develop when addressing politicians and policy-makers to create optimal public policy. This included several key elements (epidemiology, explanations, evaluation/effectiveness, and expense/efficiency), key capabilities (communication, collaboration, and credibility), and key deliverables (developmental pathways, determinants, and demonstrations). The choice of letters was not a coincidence: ECD also stands for Early Child Development, and the critical importance of the early years is also a pervasive theme at this conference. Extending the use of alliteration, he suggested that implications of research findings for policy could be described by three R’s: Reasons, Range of Options, and Recommendations. Dr. Erin Hobin of Public Health Ontario talked about issues of obesity, physical activity, and food consumption – patterns of key relevance to public health policy. Sedentariness was also a part of her presentation. She reflected on our growing appreciation of how sedentariness impacts on our lives, and also talked about the need to improve Nutrition Facts tables on food products and information available about restaurant meals. Dr. Santos also showed some remarkable results of a pilot of the PAX Good Behaviour Game, and from a few other initiatives ongoing here in Manitoba.

The afternoon kicked off with a remarkably personal and poignant keynote by Dr. James Makokis of the Saddle Lake Cree Nation in Alberta. He spoke eloquently and honestly about the Cree way of life, including the holistic approach and emphasis on restoring traditional ways of healing including: child-rearing, connections with the land and wildlife, and the over-arching importance of spirituality. In both English and Cree, he talked about how the health of First Nations residents in Canada is often approached from the negative: the disturbing statistics, the portrayal of groups that are sick and in need of help. Thankfully, he said, this is starting to change. More and more we are recognizing the resilience and strengths of these communities and the people. Efforts are underway to re-institute many aspects of traditional culture, languages, eating, and medicine. He also described the 7 stages of life in the Cree understanding, with illustrative and engaging examples from each. A particular highlight was his reference to the understanding and inclusion of two-spirited people in the culture.

The concurrent session on Policy started with Dr. Josée Lavoie, Director of the Manitoba First Nations Centre for Aboriginal Health Research at the University of Manitoba, which is was the first of its kind in Canada. Dovetailing perfectly with Dr. Makokis’ imperative, Dr. Lavoie described how the centre works from a strengths-based approach, and is focussed on community-based interventions. She spoke about a recently-funded CIHR initiative called PEKE: Partnerships for Engagement on Knowledge Exchange . There are three networks in this initiative: one led by the National Association of Friendship Centres, another by the Native Women’s Association, and the third by the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs. This initiative is not a research project – it’s meant to focus on gathering and spreading descriptions of local innovations that have been implemented in various communities – with an eye to identifying how those successes might be shared with and adapted by other communities, to ensure local relevance while avoiding the need to re-invent good ideas.

Dr. Brian Torrance was next up, speaking about the Ever Active Schools project in Alberta. This team has worked for many years on the goal of improving comprehensive school health – that is, many outcomes, not just one. In the beginning, the program focused on healthy eating and active living, but has adapted over time, and now also devotes much effort to the social and emotional environments in schools. He noted that the key to success has been to build the program into the school curriculum and ongoing processes, so that it’s not yet another add-on for the staff to deal with. Once embedded in this way, program staff can start looking at broader influences, like changing the school’s culture – no doubt a powerful but longer-term undertaking.

Other concurrent sessions focussed on novel clinical approaches to childhood obesity, and sharing circles for community workers to share their experiences with treatment and prevention of childhood obesity.

Come back for more, from Day 3, in less than 24 hours…..