Fitness & Health

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Photo illustration by Mico Mazza

Weight management program offered by University of Ottawa Health Services

STUDENTS ARE WARNED by family and friends about the freshman 15—those dreaded pounds that tend to pack on when you start sacrificing gym time for study sessions and veggies for vending machine treats.

According to Canada Health, serious consequences can arise when you become overweight or obese, and for some, the easy addition of 15 pounds can lead to far greater weight gain over time.

Having a body mass index (BMI) measurement of over 25 can increase the risk for a number of health issues ,including hypertension, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, stroke, some forms of cancer, and mental health problems such as depression.

Fortunately, the University of Ottawa Health Services’ Family Health Team (UOHS-FHT) offers a free group weight-management program to students with a physician at UOHS-FHT.

Healthy Lifestyles is a 10-week program co-facilitated by a registered dietician and a certified fitness trainer. The program focuses on creating lifestyle change through professional advice and discussion about mindful eating, exercise, food choices, and behaviour change.

“The first hour of every week we would talk about general nutrition and healthy lifestyle behaviours, and then the last hour we have a certified fitness trainer that works with the program,” explained Catherine Richards, UOHS-FHT registered dietician, regarding the two-hour-long weekly sessions. “He’ll talk about exercise and we’ll go through with the group trial exercises.”

“When the program is done, [one] goal is to [have given] people exercises they could do at home with minimal equipment,” she elaborated. “We use stability balls, bands, and hand weights, and we use stairs in the building that we’re in for cardio. As well, the participants in the group have access to work with a trainer for one hour a week for one-on-one training during the 10 weeks of the program.

The Healthy Lifestyles program is ideal for individuals who prefer group class settings, which offer the opportunity to share experiences and be supported by others working on making the same lifestyle changes. Groups are limited to around 15 participants per session.

Richards explained those interested need to meet two requirements.

“Their body mass index needs to be over 25, so that means that they are overweight. To be referred into the program they’d have to be referred by one of the doctors in the Health Services clinic,” she said.

Students can make an appointment with their health-care professional at UOHS-FHT to discuss if they would be a good fit for the program and to get a referral.

“[The program] is improving health, and our focus is on prevention so people that come through the program may lose weight. People have better disease control—people who have diabetes or people who have elevated cholesterol,” said Richards. “People just generally feel better. We’ve seen a big improvement from people suffering from depression as well.”

She also pointed out students who wouldn’t qualify for this program have a number of other options to learn about healthy lifestyles and weight management.

“If they’re a student, they have access to the dietician in Health Services as well,” she said. “There are a few websites, like, where they can find information on different programs that might run in the city, and Ottawa Public Health at would have a list of programs that would run as well.”

If students haven’t registered with UOHS-FHT, they can visit the service’s website at or go to the clinic located at 100 Marie Curie St. and speak to one of their reception staff. If they have registered with a health-care professional at the U of O and want more information on the Healthy Lifestyles program, they can call (613) 564-3950. Health Promotions also has weight management resources available in room 203 of the University Centre. 

—Ali Schwabe