Cheese and crackers; sunshine and water; physicians and schools

AMA Youth Run Club: School health advocacy talks

March 17, 2017

AMA President Dr. Padraic Carr hands out YRC sunglasses to students at Prince Charles school.

Contributed by: Vanda Killeen, BA, Dip Ad/PR | Senior Communications Consultant, AMA Public Affairs

Some things just go together naturally; they complement each other, are mutually beneficial and when together, result in positive outcomes.

While it takes a plate to bring together some nice cheese and crackers, and a great day by the lake to join sunshine with water, the Alberta Medical Association (AMA) Youth Run Club (YRC) is the platform for uniting physicians with students and teachers through the opportunities it creates for school health advocacy.

The AMA Youth Run Club stands to achieve its greatest potential when it becomes a true and consistent collaboration of the health care and education sectors. Schools, with their student, teacher and parent populations, are a logical environment for physicians to practice health advocacy. Often serving as the hub of the community, schools provide an objective, neutral and non-threatening setting (versus the more formal, sometimes sterile medical office), where physicians can meet with these key members of their communities, to educate and advocate on behalf of good health practices.

A June 2014 Canadian Medical Protective Association (CMPA) article1The physician voice: When advocacy leads to change – noted the long history of advocacy in medicine. “Recognizing the credibility associated with the medical profession, physicians have traditionally been called upon to speak up on behalf of patients or others in need, and to influence policy or program changes.”

From Dr. Rudolf Virchow’s comment in the 19th century, when he noted that physicians were “natural attorneys of the poor” to the advocacy role that physicians play (or have the potential to) in their patients’ lives today – serving as a “trusted source for health care information and support” amidst an increasingly “complex and shifting health care system” – the CMPA article acknowledges that the need for physicians to lead with advocacy is as vital as ever. “While the definition of appropriate advocacy in health care is evolving, physicians can show leadership by remaining engaged and seeking to advance their viewpoints in a professional and appropriate manner.”

Getting to the root of the solution

As AMA member physicians, medical students and residents who have volunteered as YRC CHAMPions can attest, involvement with the AMA Youth Run Club presents a rare opportunity to share messages of the lifelong value of physical and mental wellness with children, teachers and often family members, in a school setting.

“We know that healthy students are better learners,” says Dr. Kimberley Kelly, AMA Comprehensive School Health representative, mother to two school-age children and a firm believer in the benefits of the health care practitioner/teacher-and-school collaboration.

“By getting involved in the AMA Youth Run Club, we’re participating in and supporting grassroots prevention, while sharing our knowledge and skills with our communities,” she continues. “Physician leadership, coupled with building community connections at a local level, can significantly improve the health of students, staff and families in our school communities. And in my experience, it’s extremely rewarding to have a positive impact on the long-term health outcomes of our students.”

Although still new to his term as AMA President, Dr. Padraic E. Carr has already helped out with two YRC season launches (in Calgary and Edmonton) and is eagerly anticipating more opportunities for involvement. He says, “There’s a real sense of comradery and the kids supporting each other, engaging energetically in physical activity, in the fresh air, and benefitting from the active involvement of their teachers and principals, and even family members.”

Dr. Carr also notes the more sobering reality that today’s technology-focused lifestyles create a real need for purposeful, organized, healthful living-based programs like the AMA Youth Run Club. This is revealed by both personal observation and statistics:2

  • 89% of coaches reported engaging students who are not traditionally physically active.
  • 73% of coaches reported the club leading to positive changes in student behavior.

Dr. Carl W. Nohr, AMA’s Immediate Past President, is also a strong supporter of the AMA YRC. He has similar feelings on the importance of physical activity among youth.

“The value of physical activity as part of a healthy lifestyle cannot be overemphasized. The generation of youth involved with the Youth Run Club will be our professionals, civic leaders and workers of the future. To them, physical activity will be second nature,” says Dr. Nohr. “They will redesign our cities, shopping areas and workplaces around more active and healthy lifestyles. Providing these youth with positive experiences with physical activity, good nutrition and healthy living early in their lives is essential, and the AMA Youth Run Club is doing just that!”

Dr. Carr has some additional thoughts and a call to action for all of us:

“It used to be that play and associated physical activity was just a natural, everyday occurrence for children. But with so much technology in our lives today, that’s no longer the case. Yet we continue to learn more and more about the physical and mental benefits of activity and a healthy diet and lifestyle,” he says. “These are the messages of good health advocacy, through involvement with the Youth Run Club, that we can role model and share with students, teachers and parents. I heartily encourage my fellow AMA members to get involved with the AMA Youth Run Club.”

References available upon request.

The Alberta Medical Association stands as an advocate for its physician members, providing leadership & support for their role in the provision of quality health care.