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May 11 , 2010

Brescia alumna develops program to help people with developmental disabilities live healthy lives

Chwen Johnson

London, ON – Chwen Johnson was the first student to graduate from Brescia University College with a Masters of Science in Food & Nutrition (MScFN) in ’09 and she has blazed another trail by implementing the original Strive for Health (SFH) program in Hamilton.

The SFH program, which teaches nutrition concepts, fitness, and healthy cooking to adults with developmental disabilities, grew out of the Master’s thesis completed by Johnson, a Registered Dietitian who earned her MSc full-time while working part-time at Hamilton Public Health Services. “I was running a cooking program for elementary school children through Public Health. A manager from the local Development Services Agency approached me to see if I could provide a program similar to that for adults with developmental disabilities. At the time I was looking for a topic for my research project and this was the perfect fit.”

SFH includes a 10-week healthy eating and cooking session. The participants learn about the four food groups, menu planning, grocery shopping, and the use of various kitchen utensils. The program is led by trained support workers and supported by a registered dietitian. The fitness component, co-ordinated by McMaster University, emphasizes cardiovascular endurance, muscle strength, and flexibility.

Johnson hopes that the success of the pilot project, funded by the Ministry of Health Promotion, will lead to its implementation across the province. “I have so many plans. First of all, I want to promote the program to all 13 developmental service agencies in Hamilton. I also want to promote the program to all the cities in Ontario; this program is a pilot for a provincial roll-out.”

Dr. June Matthews, assistant professor and Johnson’s thesis advisor at Brescia, said it was very rewarding to work on this project with Johnson and Lauren Gogol, a graduate student in the MScFN Internship Stream, who provided research assistance. “We interviewed individuals with developmental disabilities, and conducted focus groups with their support workers and the managers of the homes to find out what would be the best way to run cooking programs for this population. It’s great to see that our research is making a real difference in people’s lives.”

Participants of SFH are referred through Contact Hamilton, which is an entry point to services for people with developmental disabilities, and via individual agencies. Johnson also promotes the program among Developmental Services Agency executive directors. Applicants are selected using a set of criteria. Their level of developmental disability ranges from mild to moderate, and they must have interest in the program. Finally, their potential for independent living in the community in considered, as one goal of the program is to improve the prospect of participants to live on their own.

“I would say the most rewarding part of the program is seeing the curriculum that I developed being implemented, working well, and enjoyed by the participants. It’s also very rewarding for me to see participants learning important skills that are going to have a positive impact on their lives. The support workers tell me that they’re learning a lot and having fun, too,” Johnson said.

Johnson added that she would like to develop a similar program for children with developmental disabilities. “It’s really important to teach them about healthy living and nutrition when they are still young. Parents of children with developmental disabilities sometimes do everything for their children and that’s not necessarily good.”  

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Brescia University College, Canada’s premier women’s university college, is affiliated with The University of Western Ontario. The 1,100 women registered as either full or part-time students at Brescia study a wide variety of subjects in Arts, Social Sciences, and Foods & Nutrition in an empowering, compassionate, student-centred, and invigorating environment. Degrees are granted by Western. The Catholic College welcomes students from all backgrounds and values diversity. For more current and archived news, a listing of faculty experts, and photos please visit our Online Media Room at http://www.brescia.uwo.ca/media/index.html

For more information, please contact:

Dr. June Matthews
Assistant Professor
Division of Foods and Nutritional Science
Phone: 519.432.8353, ext. 28004
E-mail: jmatth22@uwo.ca