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Camp promotes healthy habits

Over 110 elementary students got a healthy start to their day when they visited the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM) for the One Health Healthy Food Camp on June 10.

Students in Grades 4, 5 and 6 at Saskatoon’s Brunskill and Greystone Heights Schools attended the morning camp that included four stations filled with information, games and hands-on activities. Each stop focused on educating kids about healthy lifestyles for both them and their pets.

One Health is a global initiative that encourages a more collaborative approach to health care and to the well being of people and animals.

At one of the camp’s stations, the students met Dr. Colleen Dell and her loveable English bulldog, Annabelle, who is trained as a therapy dog. Dell and Annabelle visit schools, hospital and homes all over Saskatoon to provide health benefits for people who don’t have their own pets.

“Spending time with your pet will make both of you healthier,” said Dell, a professor in the University of Saskatchewan’s Department of Sociology and the School of Public Health.

She recommended petting or holding an animal for 10 to 15 minutes each day since it reduces stress by slowing your breathing and heart rate.

Dell also emphasized to the students that animals need exercise, too. “Just like people, animals need to balance their energy intake and output. Taking your pet for a walk will help both owners and pets get exercise into their daily lifestyles.”

Annabelle usually gets her daily exercise by walking, but she’s learning to skateboard — a skill that the students found particularly fascinating.

Dr. Lynn Weber of the WCVM’s Department of Veterinary Biomedical Sciences and her research associate, Kyla Zatti, are studying healthier ingredient options for pet food. The researchers talked to the students about pet nutrition and portion sizes.

“Because pets are smaller, what looks like a small treat for people is actually a big treat for them,” Weber explained to the kids. “Pets are often overweight because we feed them too much and [give them] too many treats.”

This station used matching games to help kids understand how much pets should eat and what foods are nutritional or not.

As an example, Weber talked about giving one cookie to a 20-pound cocker spaniel. “It’s equivalent to a person eating one hamburger. So that’s like eating a whole meal for them.”

Research associate Kyla Zatti (far right) uses a matching game to help illustrate the concept of portion size to students.

Dr. Hassan Vatanparast, another School of Public Health faculty member and an associate professor in the U of S College of Pharmacy and Nutrition, hosted a session called “Planning a Fun and Healthy Birthday Party” where the students made their own fruit pizzas.

Students learned about sugar and fat in their daily diets. They also gained some ideas about how to substitute “junk food” with healthy food — and still have a delicious party treat.

“There’s a lot of sugar in most things, and I didn’t know how many different names there were for sugar,” said Teagan Craig, a Grade 5 student at Greystone Heights Elementary School.

One of the camp’s most important points was that pets and humans are not all the same when it comes to food. “Today I learned that dogs can’t eat grapes or chocolate,” said Eildh Hlady, a Grade 4 student at Brunskill Elementary School. “And also, we learned that [sugar-free] gum is poisonous to dogs!”

If you aren’t sure about which foods your pets can eat, consult your veterinarian first before feeding your any different or “human” foods to your animals.

Dr. Marilyn Sthamann, a holistic veterinarian at Lakewood Animal Hospital in Regina, Sask., also met with the students during the camp. She talked to the students about the roles that families and veterinarians play in keeping pets happy and healthy.

“In order to keep ourselves and our pets healthy, we need to feed ourselves fresh and wholesome foods, avoid exposure to toxins in our environment and exercise,” said Sthamann.

She also reminded students that regular checkups are crucial.  “Many patients we see are so ill by the time they come to see us. It is less expensive and so much more rewarding to ensure your pet is examined at least once per year rather than waiting until they are sick before taking them to a veterinarian.”

Students and teachers enjoyed the day and the chance to learn more about the idea of “One Health.” The Brunskill School group led by example as they walked to and from the U of S campus to incorporate daily activity into their One Health camp day.

The One Health Healthy Food Camp was supported by the WCVM, the U of S School of Public Health and the College of Arts and Science in partnership with the two Saskatoon schools and Regina’s Lakewood Animal Hospital.

This experience, which organizers hope to offer again to local elementary schools, is a unique and creative way to educate young children and to endorse healthy living and food choices for both kids and their animals.

Sarah Figley is a second-year veterinary student from Saskatoon, Sask., and is the WCVM’s research communications intern for the summer of 2014.