Nova Scotia currently has the highest rate of obesity in Canada. With an increasingly inactive and unhealthy society, doctors in the province want to see more children and youth see the benefits of leading a healthy and active lifestyle. Physicians are stepping up to help youth live better now, and develop good habits that will last.

For the last six years, doctors in Nova Scotia have offered a free, school-based running program, called Youth Running for Fun. The program celebrated its five year anniversary last year with a record number of participants. More than 10,000 kids at 170 schools from all areas in the province joined the program.

“As an orthopaedic surgeon, I frequently see the negative effects inactivity and obesity have on the body,” said Dr. Ross Leighton, president of Doctors Nova Scotia. “It is crucial that our youth understand the health concerns related to an inactive lifestyle and develop more active habits that will last into adulthood. That is what we aim to accomplish with the Youth Running for Fun program.”

Doctors Nova Scotia provides a full-time coordinator who promotes the program and supports participating schools by providing running clinics and tailoring the program to each individual school. The program is designed to provide individual students the opportunity to set their own personal goals. All program participants receive a runner’s handbook when they join and a certificate of achievement and finisher’s prize at the end of the program.

Many of the participants train for a final fun run, several of which are sponsored by Doctors Nova Scotia. The most popular takes place in May at the Scotiabank Blue Nose Marathon in Halifax; last year 2,500 youth completed the 4.2 kilometer event.

The Youth Running for Fun coordinator is a valuable resource to the teacher or coach who leads the program at each school. The coordinator visits participating schools to provide advice, tips and a coach’s handbook for each participant.

“Besides the excitement I see on the kid’s faces, it’s also gratifying to know the teachers love the program just as much,” said Kerry Copeland, Program Coordinator. “Teachers find the program easy to implement, and it’s great to see them continue the program year after year.”

Until 2007, the Youth Running for Fun program was fully funded by Doctors Nova Scotia, the oldest medical association in Canada representing all the doctors in the province. Since that time, three funding partners have come on board. The Nova Scotia Department of Health Promotion and Protection and the Royal Bank of Canada are presenting partners while TELUS Health Solutions is a patron partner. These partnerships allow Doctors Nova Scotia to continue offering this program to schools for free.

We know that 87 per cent of Canadian youth aren’t active enough to get the health benefits. Offering this program to schools across Nova Scotia is our way of walking the talk. It is a priority for our doctors to see our youth active, healthy and happy.

Kerry Copeland is Doctors Nova Scotia, Youth Running for Fun Program Coordinator.

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