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Promoting health, one strategy at a time

Lucie Lemelin is giving parents the tools they need to teach their children to adopt healthy habits

Mar 03, 2017, By: Marine Armstrong
Lucie Lemelin
Teckles Photography Inc.

Working upstream to prevent health problems has always been Lucie Lemelin’s passion. It is what drove her to do a PhD in clinical science and explore ways to support parents’ efforts to teach their four-and five-year-olds to adopt healthy lifestyles to prevent obesity. According to this researcher from Blainville (a community located half an hour from Montreal), parents typically have the theoretical knowledge but lack practical ways of integrating healthy eating habits and physical activity into the daily lives of their children. To date, Lemelin’s work has focused on children and on health education, especially the promotion of healthy lifestyles.

After taking general studies in a CEGEP program, Lemelin opted for a bachelor’s degree in nursing science. In the 1990s in Quebec, this was an unusual route for those who wanted to go into nursing. She started her practice at Montreal’s Centre hospitalier universitaire Sainte-Justine as a staff nurse. For a decade, she worked with patients of all ages in a variety of fields, including medicine, surgery and intensive care. After she became a nursing advisor there, her interest in the work of some of her managers compelled her to go and see what was being taught “across the street” at HEC Montréal, a renowned business school. She obtained her graduate diploma in management but confirmed she preferred nursing science. “Don’t just do what you like, do what you are passionate about” was the important career advice she received from a mentor.

Building on her doctoral research, Lemelin is now working on a tool kit of strategies for parents who want to improve their children’s lifestyle.

A professor who teaches undergraduate and graduate levels at the Université du Québec en Outaouais (UQO), she tests and refines her proposed strategies through training workshops she organizes at the Saint-Jérôme campus. “Soccer once a week is not enough,” she says. “I encourage parents to use every opportunity to be active as a family and to make exercise enjoyable. With little ones, for example, you can hop like a frog while putting toys away.”

Lemelin says she believes that everything is interconnected in her life. “Research, teaching, management — they all fit together and feed into each other.” What she hears on the radio in the morning often influences how she teaches her courses on nursing models and theories. The stories she gleans while taking her two sons, who are 11 and 14, to soccer, hockey or school fuel her thinking and her research.

One of the main obstacles to the adoption of healthy lifestyles is that parents hesitate to impose choices on children, out of guilt or for fear of causing tensions or even conflicts, Lemelin has observed. To help parents boost their confidence, she helps them reflect on their relationships with their children. By becoming aware of their own reactions and acknowledging they need to take care of their own health, parents become better able to guide their children.

The tools she has designed will be available on the UQO’s website within a year. She hopes to foster the emergence of an informal network of nurses and parents who will disseminate these health- promotion strategies. In her view, the sharing of knowledge is one of nurses’ key roles. Since they have access to people’s daily lives, they are well positioned to change behaviours and administer the best medicine: prevention.

Lemelin, 43, has a busy family life, largely organized around her sons’ activities. Her two young athletes have fierce appetites, yet never forget her lesson on dietary needs: lots of vegetables to feed our large body and a few treats to please our tiny tongue.

She rigorously manages her time to be able to give her all to everything she does and to follow up on every lead that pops into her mind. Her personal life doesn’t suffer from this dedication to her work, thanks largely to supportive relationships with her long-time spouse and their children, she says. Being in touch with nature is her way of reconnecting with herself. “I love forest walks, gardening (I have a large garden) and visiting my sister’s farm.”

Lemelin is aware that she is always thinking about her work, even when she is relaxing — this is when her ideas take shape and fall into place. She recently started to think about the effect the school environment has on the mental health of young boys. “They are anxious and stressed,” she points out. “And it’s in Quebec that children are the most medicated to manage behaviour issues. This concerns me.” Always curious, she wants to study this issue to find solutions that will benefit these children.

10 questions with Lucie Lemelin

What is one word you would use to describe yourself?

If you could change anything about yourself, what would it be?
I would be more patient

What are you most proud of having accomplished?
Successfully balancing time for my studies, my work, my children and the man I love

What is one thing about you that people would be surprised to learn?
I love sweets

“If I had more free time, I would…”
Like to paint

Where did you go on your last vacation?
New York, with my family

Name one place in the world you’d most like to visit.

What was the last good book you read?
Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

What do you like least about being a nurse?
The underestimation of nurses’ knowledge

Name one change you would like to make to the health system.
I would give more autonomy to nurses in Quebec

Marine Armstrong is a freelance writer and translator in Ottawa.