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Toward a healthier community

The Big Block Walk in downtown Amherst is just one example of how community health boards are working to increase health in the community.
The Big Block Walk in downtown Amherst is just one example of how community health boards are working to increase health in the community. - Submitted

Community health with Colleen Dowe

We all know that eating well and exercising are important for good health so what’s stopping us? 

We are constantly reminded to eat our vegetables, exercise regularly, limit the amount of alcohol we drink, not to smoke and “just say no” to drugs.

Yet with all this information our recent community survey found at least half of us don’t eat the recommended five to 10 vegetable and fruit servings each day, at least 40 per cent of us don’t get enough exercise, the provincial smoking rates are still over 30 per cent for adults and 11 per cent for youth, and alcohol is still prevalent. 

It is apparent that education on its own doesn’t work to change unhealthy behaviours. If we want to improve healthy choices, we have to look at our environment. We have to make the healthy choice the easy choice.

In our 2016 Community Health Survey, respondents cited cost, time and motivation as some of the barriers to healthy living. Seventy per cent of respondents felt affordable, healthy food would improve the health of our community and 85 per cent supported healthy food being available in public spaces such as recreation centres, schools and hospitals. 

Community gardens are growing in popularity and popping up around the county and along with them came several cooking classes and food preparation classes.  

The Town of Amherst has been proactive in providing healthy food in recreation settings by removing the soft drink and candy vending machines from the stadium and offering healthy snacks and water at their family-first events. These are all great examples of making the healthy choice the easy choice.

When asked about increasing access to active living, respondents suggested inexpensive activities as well as changes and improvements to infrastructure. 

In Cumberland County we are lucky to have some great municipal and community programs.   Indoor walking programs are available at no cost in Amherst, Springhill, Parrsboro and Pugwash and we have several outdoor walking programs and many beautiful trail systems. 

Municipal recreation leaders have been innovative in encouraging activity like the Big Block walk in Amherst that offers an opportunity to get outside safely for some steps year round and The Dr. Carson and Marion Murray Centre in Springhill is getting new motivational signs to encourage walkers. 

Along with our walking options we have several free skating opportunities in Amherst, Oxford and Springhill and the ice pilot project in Amherst which offers free ice time to children and youth has made hockey, figure skating and ringette more affordable for families.  

The Town of Amherst and the Municipality of Cumberland County also contribute to YMCA swimming programs and teen nights.

In 2015 the Cumberland County Community Health Boards partnered with Chignecto Central Regional School Board to ask elementary children to tell us in pictures ‘why people shouldn’t smoke.’ This resulted in hundreds of posters, which can be seen around the county. In Amherst they are visible in all parks and in Pugwash you can find them along the waterfront in Eaton Park. Discouraging smoking in public spaces not only protects us from second hand smoke, it also helps to make it less of a cultural norm which we hope will continue to reduce smoking rates among our youth.

In August the Municipal Alcohol Project was expanded from being Amherst-based to include the entire county. This group, which includes community health board representation, is working to change the culture of alcohol and also advocating for healthy policy for the upcoming legalization of cannabis.  

The group’s intention is not abstinence, but to limit the harms of alcohol and cannabis on youth and our community-at-large. One of the big goals of the committee is to eliminate alcohol from events where children and youth are present. 

Upcoming parades and holiday events are great examples with the Town of Amherst New Years’ Eve Family First party being the highlight.  Over the past three years we have seen hundreds come out to celebrate with healthy food, entertainment, activity and fireworks in a no-charge, alcohol and tobacco free environment.

The environment can have a huge impact on our health and the policy changes we make today will help us improve the health of our community in future but ultimately it’s up to each of us to make the healthy choice.

Today’s a new day - grab an apple, some water and take some steps!

In Cumberland County we have three community health boards

SOAR - Bill Schurman and Linda Cloney, co-chairs; SPAR - Terri Ashley and Trudy Weir co-chairs; Pugwash and Area - Joyce Gray, chair.

For more information about the boards or to learn how you can become a member please contact or 902-397-0376.


Colleen Dowe is the co-ordinator of community health boards in Cumberland County.

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