Job Title: Executive Director, Alberta Project Promoting Active Living & Healthy Eating Schools (APPLE)
Why She’s Top 40: She’s improving the health of children across Alberta through a school-based program she helped get off the ground
As a kid, Jenn Flynn embraced any opportunity to move – whether that meant playing sports, dancing or lacing up her runners for gym class. As an adult, she knows that many kids aren’t as enthusiastic about physical activity, which puts them at a higher risk of chronic diseases and other health issues as they age.
Flynn is on the frontline of an effort to get more kids jazzed about movement, as well as other aspects of health, like good nutrition and emotional wellness. After studying physical education at the University of Alberta, she was one of the first to be hired by APPLE Schools, then a university-based pilot program helping local schools find fun, new opportunities for teaching healthy habits.The program asks children what they would find fun to do: “We find kids come back with really unusual things like, I’d like to do Zumba or have a dance party.” Other examples include growing a community garden, preparing moose meat and selling oranges on popsicle sticks at the school canteen.
A decade later, Flynn has risen through the ranks to become executive director and APPLE Schools is now an independent not-for-profit organization active in 63 schools across Alberta (and will soon spread to Manitoba and the Northwest Territories). The organization is still connected with the U of A’s School of Public Health – researchers there continue to study how well strategies work – and its mandate remains the same: “We’re trying to get kids to move more, eat better and feel better about themselves.”
Research confirms the program has tangible benefits, increasing physical activity by 35 per cent and vegetable consumption by 10 per cent. Flynn attributes the program’s effectiveness to its collaborative approach, in which staff from APPLE Schools work with teachers and students to come up with ideas that the entire community can get behind. “The biggest piece of our project is creating buy-in and sustainability,” she says.