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Chef Aimee Schulhauser gives a cooking lesson at Schoolhaus Culinary Arts.  Photo by Amanda Symynuk

Moving swiftly around the kitchen, chef Aimee Schulhauser is giving demos on how to properly chop an onion. Colorful vegetables fill up the table, waiting to be made into tonight’s culinary masterpiece.

Seemingly simple lifestyle changes lead her down the path to becoming a chef. “I was in university and I wasn’t eating very well as I’m sure a lot of people can relate to and I started getting heavier and heavier and heavier and I just couldn’t understand why... And then it dawned on me, oh I’m eating noodles every meal.” So, she bought a cooking magazine and started teaching herself how to cook. “After a while it became all I wanted to do.”

After completing a degree in geology, she moved to Calgary and worked in the food industry for a while before going to cooking school. Her culinary career took her to Regina where she started one of the first privately owned cooking schools, Schoolhaus Culinary Arts.   All except two classes this January have sold out, including the children’s class.   The coming months are filling up fast with participants looking at booking weeks in advance.

The allure of these classes may have something to do with the skills that people can acquire. “I think people feel empowered once they get those first gateway skills and they find that they’re better than they think they are, “ says Schulhauser, “...we never really grew up with those skills, a lot of us.”

Indeed, a lot of people did not grow up with the skills to cook as part of a healthy lifestyle. It is one part of a public health concern: obesity. According to a 2013 Statistics Canada report, 56.3 per cent of Canadians reported a height and weight that put them in the overweight or obese category compared to 61.1 per cent of Saskatchewanians, putting the prairie province higher than the national average. The report complied information on adults who self-reported as being obese using the Body Mass Index (BMI), a measure that examines a person’s weight compared with their height.

The Saskatchewan government has responded by implementing programs to prevent obesity in future generations. The Ministry of Health has many programs aimed at children and families in educating about nutrition and physical activity. This includes school programs such as the Health Promoting Schools (HPS) program and the Active Families Benefit.

In addition, the Regina Qu’Appelle Health Region has many community based programs which are aimed at the prevention of obesity. Clinical treatments such as bariatric surgery are also offered to those who require it.   Sharon Walker, Manager of Clinical Nutrition Services for the Regina Qu’Appelle Health Region says “there’s a great niche in the community... the health region is expanding on that to better meet the needs of people in the preventative side of things.”

Education and programming through institutions is expanding to address the issue. However, Dr. Katya Herman, assistant professor at the University of Regina Faculty of Kinesiology and Health Studies, says the building blocks to bringing the high statistics down are in place but we still have a long way to go in reducing obesity in the province. Dr. Herman researches the health-related quality of life as well as the inter-relationships between physical activity, sedentary behaviour and obesity. “I don’t think that we’ve gone as far as we can with these programs. I think we’re just realizing how to change conditions in our lives,” she says.

Dr. Herman explains that people are educated “for the most part” and that we need to create the conditions which will make healthy choices easier. One reason people are not able to make the choices they need to live a healthy lifestyle, to avoid obesity and the health issues with it, is because of the way their neighborhood is designed. “It’s not that simple to say kids have to be active. Where?,” she says.   Dr. Herman describes some of the newer neighbourhoods in Regina as being rows upon rows of houses with little to no park space for people to get physical activity and older neighbourhoods, such as North Central, as “food deserts,” because healthy food options are not within easy access.

The options to learn to make a healthy lifestyle a bit easier are becoming more available. In the heart of Regina participants are learning a new recipe. Many people attend to expand their recipe box or just for a fun night out. Either way, they are avoiding the drive-thru. If the option to learn something beneficial is convenient, people will take it. “When it’s easier and when it’s get to enjoy it with your family then the allure of take away is just a little bit less shiny,” says Shulhauser.