Deljit Bains is the Leader of South Asian Health Institute which recently won Fraser Health’s Above and Beyond Innovator Award. As part of the Institute’s Sehat program, the team has worked closely with gurdwaras, temples, schools and businesses to design new ways to help Fraser Health’s South Asian population eat healthier meals and reduce their risk of developing chronic diseases
The South Asian kitchen is known for the delicious variety of food it creates. Be it mouth-watering butter chicken or a crispy fried samosa, sweet jalebi or gulab Jamun — the yummy food is hard to resist. But all this food comes with its own set of problems. Many know and unfortunately many are unaware that regular consumption of such oily and salty food increases your risk of serious health issues.
According to a report published by the Fraser Health, South Asians are two to three times at greater risk of getting chronic diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular problems, stroke, kidney disease — and ten years earlier — compared to other ethnic groups. While individuals who immigrate to Canada, including South Asians, are typically healthier than their host population upon arrival (ie healthy immigrant effect), their health and health behaviours may erode over time. Among South Asian immigrants, those who had been living in Canada for 0-10 years reported significantly lower fruit and vegetable consumption, higher intake of sugary beverages and higher consumption of fast food, in comparison to immigrants who have been living in Canada for 10 years.
Diet, genetics, lack of exercise and lack of awareness on making healthy choices have been identified as the main reasons behind it. Fraser Health serves about 1.6million people of which 15% (250,000) people are of South Asian descent spread across Surrey, Burnaby, New Westminster and Abbotsford. It is one of the largest South Asian population clusters in Canada. In order to improve the health and clinical outcomes of the South Asian population in a culturally appropriate way, South Asian Health Institute (SAHI) was established.
Improving South Asian Population health requires a comprehensive multi-level approach in partnership with community leaders and stakeholders. The mandate of SAHI is to act as a catalyst for collaboration and coordination between Fraser Health programs to better understand the specific health needs of the population, support development of evidence-based programs and lower the chronic disease burden of individuals, families, communities and the health system.
Taking further the institute’s message into to the core of the community is Deljit Bains, leader of SAHI. An RN, Bsc, MBA, the Manager of SAHI, Deljit’s contributions to SAHI have been immense when it comes to educating and empowering the community in its own language and making health information culturally relevant. Born and raised in Kamloops, Deljit has held health care roles in acute care, education and population based community care. As Leader of the South Asian Health Institute her role involves helping to improve health and health outcomes for the South Asian population in a culturally appropriate way through innovative evidence-based care. She became the main force behind the launch of Sehat initiative which recently won Fraser Health’s Innovator award.
“We narrowed our focus on food. We educated people about the food items cooked in the South Asian kitchens. We provided information in their own language about how to read food labels, we have also created information in digital media format about how much sugar the most loved Indian sweets hold.”
Collaborative partnerships have been a key factor in the success of the Sehat program. The SAHI team began their work in the community by establishing the ‘Sehat Cooks’ initiative with gurdwaras and temples. The team visits different locations monthly, hosts hands-on activities that engage and educate – everything from taste tests of their easy-to-make South Asian recipes, to digital media campaigns on temple monitors and websites, to interactive food displays – with a goal of helping people understand what’s in the food they are eating.
The program has created partnerships with 12 places of worship in Surrey, Delta, New Westminster, and Abbotsford, logged more than 17,000 participant interactions and distributed over 37,000 resources. Through collaborative work with the gurdwaras, the SAHI team has helped kitchen staff, who serve up to 500 people per day, reduce the amount of added sugar in their daily meals by up to 30 percent. SAHI volunteers have been integral to the success of the program and have dedicated over 700 hours engaging with the community.
One of the main highlights of SEHAT program is collaborating with the kitchens of gurudwaras and temples, analyzing the ingredients and their quantity and giving them feedback on how to make them healthier. “We started this effort with Guru Nanak Sikh Gurudwara. And I must say they were extremely receptive and co-operative about all the suggestions we gave them,” Deljit said.
Giving an example, she says that at the gurudwaras the team asked the volunteers how they make ‘kheer’ (a sweet Indian rice-and-milk dessert) and how much sugar they use. The dietician on the team analyzed it all and gave feedback, explaining to them: ‘You are putting in this amount of sugar and if you reduce it by 25 percent this is what you can accomplish.’
Along with kheer, the gurudwaras have reduced the sugar content in tea and Indian sweets. “We are not here to dictate people on what to eat and what not to eat. Our goal is to engage the community to manage their own health and make simple changes to their diet and lifestyle to prevent chronic diseases. I am proud to say as a result of the Sehat program connecting with the community, we are seeing people make positive changes to their health,” said Deljit Bains, South Asian Health Institute leader. “
She and her team have also started approaching schools and businesses. “Through places of worship we are getting connected to the South Asian population but our focus audience is people between the ages of 30 to 60. When we were holding workshops at the Gurdwaras, we noticed people between this age group were missing because they are either at work or come during the weekend. We now hold workshops during the weekend. We have expanded our work to include local businesses and private schools. For example we have provided workshops on healthy eating and created roadmaps for employees and families on healthier options when they choose to eat out,” she says.
Engagement of the community is the foundational principle of the South Asian Health Institute team, which includes clinical dieticians; program and volunteer coordinators, assistants and specialists in public health and clinical prevention.
“I am proud of our team’s commitment and level of collaboration in helping the South Asian community make changes to their diet and overall health. Together we have been able to improve access to culturally appropriate health information and encourage healthier lifestyle choices for the South Asian community.”