Feasibility study of asset mapping with children: Identifying how the community environment shapes activity and food choices in Alexander First Nation

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  • Introduction: It is estimated that First Nations children living on reserves are 4.5 times more likely to be obese than Canadian children in general. Many First Nations children living on reserves have limited healthy food and physical activity options. Understanding how community factors contribute to First Nations children’s lifestyle choices is an understudied area of research. Furthermore, rarely has health research elicited First Nations children’s perspectives of their communities. The purpose of this study was to understand the external behavior-shaping factors that influence the lifestyle behaviors of First Nations’ children. Asset mapping with children was used to understand how community resources impacted children’s activity and eating options. Methods: Alexander First Nation is in central Alberta. Asset mapping was one component of a research project in the community to identify risk factors for children developing diabetes. Participants were a convenience sample of two high school students working at the local health centre and seven grade six children. Maps, photographs, and a tour of the town site enabled participants to identify places and spaces where they were active or could obtain food. For each of these assets, a description of how it was used and how it could be modified for better usage was derived from notes and transcripts using content analysis. Assets were grouped into usage categories, which were then mapped onto a layout of the community and presented at a community meeting to address childhood obesity. Results: Twenty-five places and spaces were identified as being activity or food related. Breakfast and/or lunch, concession foods (snack foods, eg chocolate bars, potato crisps) were obtained at school; meals and snack foods where cultural gatherings occur; and snack foods at the local store. Healthy food choices were limited. Children and youth were active at different locations in town, with only two spaces beyond the town site identified as locations for activity. Youth recommended the construction of a leisure centre, that healthier food be sold at the local convenience store, and the development of a community garden and berry farm. Conclusions: In the ecological framework, weight status is considered embedded within the larger ecology of individual lives because of interrelationships between an individual's personal dimensions and other components of an individual’s external environment. Asset mapping with children and youth in Alexander First Nation helped to achieve an understanding of the community factors that shaped their health behaviors. Asset mapping not only produced a list of places and spaces where they played, met, and ate, but also showed where they most preferred to be. Further, the exercise enabled children to express how assets could be improved, and the assets they would like in their community, to promote healthy behaviors. The findings enabled adults to contextualize other community data collected about children (ie obesity prevalence, physical activity levels), to better understand how the presence and the condition of places and spaces in the community shaped the physical activity and eating behaviors of children and youth, and how local resources could be modified to be more health promoting.

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    © D DyckFehderau, NL Holt, GD Ball, Alexander First Nation community, ND Willows, 2013. A licence to publish this material has been given to James Cook University, http://www.rrh.org.au
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    • Fehderau, D. D., Holt, N. L., Ball, G. D., & Willows, N. D. (2013). Feasibility study of asset mapping with children: Identifying how the community environment shapes activity and food choices in Alexander First Nation. Rural and Remote Health, 13(1), 2289 [11 pages]. Retrieved from: http://www.rrh.org.au/articles/subviewnew.asp?ArticleID=2289
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