Health experts in P.G. to talk to men

When it comes to wellness, men in the north have a ways to go.

Men are less healthy than women, more likely to get cancer and less likely to visit the doctor. Men die earlier and are three times more likely to commit suicide, according to 2011 Statistics Canada data.

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On Monday a group of health experts is coming to Prince George to talk about ways to improve those numbers through existing programs and new initiatives.

Holly Christian, men's health regional lead for Northern Health, will be one of the speakers at the workshop, dubbed Men's Health Works.

"It's really just about having a conversation in our community," said Christian of the event held at the Prince George Civic Centre.

Women dominate participation in workplace wellness programs, but various agencies across the province are trying male-focused approaches that make the prospect of adopting better eating habits, increasing physical activity and reducing stress more attractive to men.

"When we've looked at men's health we try to find where were the men and where could we access them and where would it make the most difference to talk about their health," said Christian, adding the north also has a higher number of vulnerable populations, particularly First Nations.

Industry was a natural focus, especially when workers can spend several weeks at a time on a single site, logging long hours.

"It's really about creating supportive environments," she said. "It also takes the onus off of the individual reduce chronic disease."

A pilot project called Working on Wellness is focused entirely on remote worksites. The months-old program is in four sites in the Yukon and two in B.C. - with BC Hydro at Mica Creek and Nexen in North Liard - with a tentative two more planned. The collaborative initiative led by the BC Healthy Living Alliance will follow these sites over the next three years.

The project is filling a gap, said Mary Collins, director of the alliance, who is also a speaker at Monday's event.

"That's what this is all about, is looking at new approaches," said Collins, adding the work sites offer an ideal environment where they have easy access to a captive audience of often large numbers of employees.

The programs are site-specific as the workers fill out a survey saying what health outcomes are most important to them - and then it's on the Working on Wellness project to put in the programs that help make "the healthy choices the easy choice."

"We usually have a champion in each of the sites," said Collins.

Some of those champions are the paramedics already on site. WorkSafeBC requires first aid attendants at every work sites, but Iridia Medica offers primary and advanced care trained paramedics with immediate access to remote consultation from its doctors.

Most sites are very safe spaces, so Iridia founder Dr. Allan Holmes said the paramedics have loads of time to implement the project's preventative programming.

"What we've realized is that there's a real opportunity for these paramedics to promote healthy living and healthy workplace," said Holmes.

The partnership works well, he said, because strong materials and training tips are provided while his company has direct access to the workers that need the help.

"What's quite unique is because these are usually fly-in or drive-in camps, paramedics basically live in the same camp environment where we found it's really been very successful is they get to know and trust the paramedic," said Holmes, adding the peer-to-peer approach can be more effective. "A lot of this work gets done over the lunch table or having coffee."

Holmes has paramedics in about eight sites across the province and is implementing the lessons learned even though only two are involved in the pilot project.

"I'm very passionate about getting this into as many different groups and areas as we can. What the pilot does is show us here's some hard data around it," he said.

"What I'm hoping out of this is more companies realize you can do this work. You can put it into your company culture."

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