Brescia alumna develops program to help people with developmental disabilities live healthy lives

May 11 , 2010


London, ON – Chwen Johnson  was the first student to graduate from Brescia  University College  with a Masters of Science in Food & Nutrition (MScFN) in ’09 and she has  blazed another trail by implementing the original Strive for Health (SFH)  program in Hamilton.

The SFH program, which  teaches nutrition concepts, fitness, and healthy cooking to adults with  developmental disabilities, grew out of the Master’s thesis completed by Johnson,  a Registered Dietitian who earned her MSc full-time while working part-time at Hamilton  Public Health Services. “I was running a cooking program for elementary school  children through Public Health. A manager from the local Development Services  Agency approached me to see if I could provide a program similar to that for  adults with developmental disabilities. At the time I was looking for a topic  for my research project and this was the perfect fit.”

SFH includes a 10-week  healthy eating and cooking session. The participants learn about the four food  groups, menu planning, grocery shopping, and the use of various kitchen  utensils. The program is led by trained support workers and supported by a  registered dietitian. The fitness component, co-ordinated by McMaster University,  emphasizes cardiovascular endurance, muscle strength, and flexibility.

Johnson hopes that the  success of the pilot project, funded by the Ministry of Health Promotion, will lead  to its implementation across the province. “I have so many plans. First of all,  I want to promote the program to all 13 developmental service agencies in  Hamilton. I also want to promote the program to all the cities in Ontario; this program is  a pilot for a provincial roll-out.”

Dr. June Matthews, assistant  professor and Johnson’s thesis advisor at Brescia,  said it was very rewarding to work on this project with Johnson and Lauren  Gogol, a graduate student in the MScFN Internship Stream, who provided research  assistance. “We interviewed individuals with developmental disabilities, and  conducted focus groups with their support workers and the managers of the homes  to find out what would be the best way to run cooking programs for this  population. It’s great to see that our research is making a real difference in  people’s lives.”

Participants of SFH are  referred through Contact Hamilton, which is an entry point to services for  people with developmental disabilities, and via individual agencies. Johnson  also promotes the program among Developmental Services Agency executive  directors. Applicants are selected using a set of criteria. Their level of  developmental disability ranges from mild to moderate, and they must have  interest in the program. Finally, their potential for independent living in the  community in considered, as one goal of the program is to improve the prospect  of participants to live on their own.

“I would say the most  rewarding part of the program is seeing the curriculum that I developed being  implemented, working well, and enjoyed by the participants. It’s also very  rewarding for me to see participants learning important skills that are going  to have a positive impact on their lives. The support workers tell me that  they’re learning a lot and having fun, too,” Johnson said.

Johnson added that she would  like to develop a similar program for children with developmental disabilities.  “It’s really important to teach them about healthy living and nutrition when  they are still young. Parents of children with developmental disabilities  sometimes do everything for their children and that’s not necessarily good.”


Brescia University College, Canada’s premier women’s university college, is  affiliated with The University   of Western Ontario. The  1,100 women registered as either full or part-time students at Brescia study a wide  variety of subjects in Arts, Social Sciences, and Foods & Nutrition in an empowering, compassionate, student-centred, and  invigorating environment. Degrees are granted by Western. The Catholic College  welcomes students from all backgrounds and values diversity. For more current  and archived news, a listing of faculty experts, and photos please visit our  Online Media Room at

For  more information, please contact:

Dr.  June Matthews                       Assistant Professor                       Division of Foods and  Nutritional Science                       Phone: 519.432.8353, ext. 28004                       E-mail: