Manitoba First Nation offers cash prizes in weight loss competition

A First Nation in Manitoba with high rates of diabetes is hoping to boost community health by holding a weight loss competition with some large cash prizes.

“I’m pumped. I’m really, really excited about it, really encouraged, and I think it’s a great opportunity for our people to do something together,” said one of the participants, Stephanie Wood.

St. Theresa Point is an isolated Anishininew (Oji-Cree) community about 460 kilometres north of Winnipeg.

On Wednesday and Thursday, nearly 400 people in St. Theresa Point were weighed in for the community’s first-ever weight loss competition, which features a first place prize of $16,000.

 

A copy of the poster that was circulated on social media prior to the weigh ins. (St. Theresa Point Education Authority.)

“It’s huge. People feel really motivated,” said Wood, an early years teacher in St. Theresa Point.

For the competition, the 49-year-old weighed in at 260 pounds. 

“I am getting older… There’s a history of diabetes in my family and I need to lose some weight,” said Wood. 

“I’m always on that borderline, that if I don’t change my eating habits soon, I could very well develop diabetes.”

The rules say there will be two men and two women on each team, and each participant will be “drafted” to a random team. 

Wood said the competition has the potential to heal old conflicts within the community.

“Part of the challenge is for us to learn how to work together, which I think is awesome because that promotes wellness and healing in our community as well as health,” said Wood.

Wood said people in the community are planning to do walks and workouts together and that the school will likely be open for gym nights as the season gets cooler. 

She plans on changing her eating habits soon.

“Maybe there won’t be any more pop in the house. Maybe eventually there will be no more chips in the house,” said Wood.

If Wood wins one of the prizes, she said part of it would go to her grandchildren’s Christmas gifts. She also said she plans to keep the weight off and will likely have to buy a new wardrobe.

High rate of diabetes

Freddie Wood, director of the education authority, is the person behind the idea to have a competition. 

When the pandemic hit, the fly-in community took precautions against COVID-19.

“When we closed the doors, limited our community for travel restrictions, large gatherings, our regular cultural activities, school — everything seemed to be closed, that impacted the community,” said Freddie Wood.

He wanted to come up with an idea that would help boost morale, as well as get them to think more about their personal health.

“People need to look forward to something,” said Freddie Wood. 

“In First Nations communities, there’s high rates of diabetes and obesity. It’s because of the high cost of food in our community and a lack of quality nutritious foods like vegetables and fruits.”

To fund the prizes, Freddie Wood said the money came from a number of the communities business associates that they deal with, as well as local fundraising efforts.

The community’s health director, Elvin Flett, said people in the Island Lake region have a long history with diabetes.

“I would say including Type 1 and Type 2 [diabetes], we’re looking at approximately 75 per cent of the people in the community who are faced with diabetes or already have diabetes. And that’s a huge number,” said Flett.

Flett estimates that within the next 15 years, 30 per cent of the community could be at risk to some sort of kidney failure in relation to diabetes.

Flett, who will be taking part in the competition, said he wasn’t consulted with how the competition would play out and didn’t have enough time to prepare notes on the risks of it.

“I think to some degree the [competition] can be dangerous, especially for people who are diabetic and have to monitor with medication and stuff like that,” said Flett. 

He said he plans on releasing some online tips so that people can be safe over the next few months.

“There’s mental [health] issues that can arise from that — shaming and also failure — being in a group of four, being pushed by your partners,” said Flett.

Flett is encouraging people to monitor their health over the next few months and said a community health representative will be available for anyone in the community that needs one.

Since the weigh-ins happened, Freddie Wood said there have been some community concerns about the competition and that he hopes to address them by outlining the full rules on Monday.

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