News: Government of Canada supports HockeyFIT expansion across Canada

Today, Peter Fragiskatos, Member of Parliament, announced that the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) will be investing up to $2.5 million over three and a half years to help expand Western University’s Hockey Fans in Training (Hockey FIT) program across the country.

This program aims to motivate Canadian adult males to eat healthier foods and become more physically active by incorporating participants’ passion for hockey into the initiative. The MP made this announcement while meeting with project partners at a participating YMCA.

“Men are under-represented in health promotion programs and visit their doctor less than women; this may be associated with worsening health indicators in men compared to women in Canada. Our research suggests that men associate physical activity with sport and athleticism and prefer health promotion programs that incorporate competition in the company of other men,” said Dr. Rob Petrella, Schulich Medicine & Dentistry Professor, and founder of Hockey FIT.  

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle, including regular physical activity and healthy eating, plays an important role in the well-being and quality of life of Canadians and helps prevent chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers. Excess weight is a top risk factor for developing chronic diseases and significantly compromises the health of Canadians. In Canada, men (particularly those who are middle-aged) are almost 35 per cent more likely than women to be overweight or obese.

“Canadian men live an average of four years less than Canadian women—with an even greater gap for Indigenous men and men living in rural settings or with lower incomes. Finding innovative ways to encourage men to get more active, improve their diets and achieve and maintain healthy weights is important to help change this trend. Programs like Hockey FIT are an example of turning a passion into a path to improving one’s health and well-being,” said Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer.

Hockey FIT will partner with Canadian Hockey League (CHL) teams and YMCA locations to implement and deliver 12-week sessions targeting 1,280 men who are overweight or obese between the ages of 35 and 65 in at least 32 communities across Canada.

The program includes a classroom-based education component focusing on healthy eating and the importance of physical activity, and an exercise component, including training in aerobic, strength and flexibility exercises. Connecting to participants’ passion for hockey, the program also incorporates activities like stick handling drills with rubber pucks to promote being active. It also includes the chance to go behind the scenes at a CHL team’s home rink like visiting the team dressing room and chatting with players and staff. Hockey FIT will use various social media and technologies to support participants during and after the program.

 “Given Canada’s love of hockey and that junior hockey in large and small communities across the country is often a rallying point, Hockey Fans in Training will engage men who are fans of their favourite junior hockey team to participate in adopting a healthy lifestyle and improve their health,” said Dr. Petrella. “Our partnerships cut across public and private sectors to provide a range of innovative tools and technologies to support long term health change in Canadian men, which we believe will positively impact their families too”

Hockey FIT is supported through the Healthy Living and Chronic Disease Prevention – Multi-sectoral Partnerships (MSP) program, which supports projects across the country for a wide variety of populations including children and youth, women, Indigenous Peoples and new Canadians. Past and current partnerships of the MSP program include ParticipACTION, Smart Moms, Farm to School and Walk or Run to Quit — all with the goal of lowering the risks of developing chronic diseases by improving access to the information, resources and services all Canadians need to make healthier choices.

Through this project, PHAC’s MSP Program is piloting a new funding model where Hockey FIT will be eligible for incentive payments beyond the initial investment for this project, based on measurable improvements in the health of participants, including cardiorespiratory fitness, healthy weights and blood pressure. This innovative approach is a first for the Government of Canada in the area of public health.

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research is also providing funding to Western University for the Hockey FIT program through a separate grant agreement.