Eat Well pilot project call centre aims to serve

After one month in operation, a new pilot program that helps connect northern residents with dieticians is starting to see some success.

On Jan. 8, the First Nations and Inuit Health Branch partnered with Dietitians of Canada to create Eat Well Saskatchewan, a dietitian call centre pilot project. The goal is to help northern residents access nutritional advice from specialists that typically aren’t available in their communities.

Danielle Switzer, Eat Well Saskatchewan’s lead dietitian, said it’s too early to tell if the program will become a permanent fixture. However, early signs are encouraging.

“We had quite a few calls at the beginning (and) lots of interest in what the line was,” Switzer said. “We’ve had steady calls so far. We’ve had people calling with food and nutrition questions from First Nations communities, which is what the call was designed for. I think it’s doing what we were hoping it would do.”

The project is scheduled to run until March 29, with a brief evaluation period to follow. Administrators will make any decisions or recommendations about the program sometime afterwards.

Residents who phone the service number can get free advice on a variety of issues that range from developing proper eating habits for young children, to learning about foods to avoid if someone has diabetes or heart disease. If a dietician can’t answer a question, callers can receive referrals to someone who can.

“Not all communities have regular, easy access to dietician services,” Switzer said. “A need was identified, and the project will hopefully address that need and give people an opportunity to make a call or send an email and directly contact a registered dietician.”

This isn’t the first time dietician call centres have been tried in Saskatchewan. In 2012, Dietitians of Canada and Saskatchewan Dietitians Association created Ask a Dietitian, a two-month pilot project. The review that followed called Ask a Dietitian “very successful,” but added that most of the callers came from Saskatoon and Regina.

The authors of the review wrote that a lack of funding hindered the program’s effectiveness, and added that large gaps existed in nutritional services, especially in rural, northern and First Nations communities. She also recommended that future projects increase service hours to become more accessible.

Switzer said she hoped this project would meet the needs of those communities by providing credible information in an accessible, timely and affordable way.

“I would like to see that people felt the service helped them by being able to access a registered dietician, that it was easy and it was free, … especially if they live in rural, remote or isolated communities,” she said.

There are currently three provinces in Canada with dietitian call centres. British Columbia broke the ice in 1972, when they established Dial-A-Dietitian, now called Dietitian Services. By 2011-12, residents were sending roughly 18,000 calls and emails to the service per year.

In 2010, Manitoba launched its own Dial-A-Dietitian program as part of a provincial initiative to reduce the burden of chronic disease. The call centre received 1,903 calls in its first two years of operation.

EatRight Ontario (ERO) started in 2007 with the goal of providing free dietary advice to Ontario residents. In 2011-12, a third party review showed that the ERO website drew close to 1 million visits per year, and that dietitians responded to 19,000 calls and emails.

According to Dieticians of Canada, residents who use the call centre increase their consumption of fruits and vegetables, decrease total saturated fat intake, and reduce their body weight and waist circumference.

@kerr_jas • jason.kerr@paherald.sk.ca

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