Alarming statistics surrounding the physical condition of youth in Burns Lake and area will hopefully be addressed through federal funding towards a youth health initiative.
Logan Wilson, Village of Burns Lake Recreation Coordinator, has put together a synopsis proposal for Burns Lake that may result in an invitation to submit a more substantial application for dollars under the Public Health Agency of Canada’s (PHAC) ‘multi-sectoral partnerships to promote healthy living and prevent chronic disease’ program.
Wilson’s proposal shows Burns Lake residents facing challenges related to health and lifestyle choices that stretch back to the formative years of youth.
Burns Lake residents have the highest body mass index (a numeric formula for measuring levels of obesity) in the province, with a life expectancy at birth three years lower than the provincial average.
In 2010, 63 per cent of Burns Lake residents reported suffering from some form of chronic illness, 18 per cent were diagnosed with chronic depression, and 17 per cent with hypertension.
A 2012 survey showed a 230 per cent increase in Burns Lake residents with diabetes (from 134 in 2010, to 443 in 2012), and a population with 33 per cent higher cancer rates than the rest of the province.
According to a separate 2012 Northern Health community health synopsis of Burns Lake, “Health status indicators consistently show that the residents of Burns Lake are not as healthy as the rest of B.C.”
These alarming statistics for the general population are reflected in similar statistics for Burns Lake youth.
The rate of Burns Lake youth (ages 0-14) hospitalized for respiratory disease is 39 per cent higher than the provincial average. The infant mortality rate in the Burns Lake region is almost double the rest of the province, with close to three times the number of children aged zero to 18 in care compared to the rest of the province.
“In LHA 55 [Lakes District] there are more children receiving income assistance, and higher serious violent crime rates compared to B.C. values,” reads the NH report. “There are more 18 year-olds who did not graduate, more children in care, a higher infant mortality rate, and a higher rate of teen pregnancies. Life expectancy is also shorter in Burns Lake, and there is a higher potential years of life lost due to suicide and homicide when compared to all of B.C.”
Wilson’s proposal for an after school program is a step towards addressing the bleak prospects for some youth in the community.
“The target population is 40 high-risk, low income youth (ages 13 to 19),” Wilson said. “Due to the substantially lower than average annual family income there is a high-risk, school-aged population who cannot afford to eat properly or to have access to recreational amenities.”
A previous after-school program run through the College of New Caledonia had good results, with a reported 84 per cent increase in regular school attendance and a 69 per cent improvement in healthy food choices.
Wilson’s report identified Burns Lake youth dropping out of high school at a 66 per cent higher rate than the provincial average. That amounts to almost half of all 18 year-olds in Burns Lake who do not graduate from high school.
“We’re focussing on chronic illness and training kids to eat healthy and stay healthy,” Wilson said. “Hopefully they’ll use those skills throughout life and avoid chronic illness.”
The specific details of the program will be worked out if the village receives a positive response from PHAC, and is invited to submit a complete proposal.
Pending a positive reply to the current synopsis proposal and the subsequent complete proposal, the after school-funding could be in place as early as September, 2014.
The village is requesting $500,000 over five years from PHAC, but will require matching funds on the village’s behalf to activate the funding. An eventual challenge would be that the $100,000 provided by the federal agency would have to be matched by funds from either non-profit groups or for-profit business donators.
A funding challenge is that contributions from the municipality, the regional district, or First Nation communities do not count towards matching funds.
But Wilson is confident that other funding sources will step up to the plate.
A larger challenge may be the long-term nature of developing healthier lifestyle habits in youth, and convincing the community-at-large that funding programs like this is important.
“It’s hard for people to see the benefits it has for the community,” Wilson said. “It’s not tangible right away; it slowly benefits everyone involved and the whole community.”
“But it’s hard to measure that.”