Health education and prevention
North America
Social and Solidarity Economy

“Group meetings to improve health and wellbeing: NorWest Co-op presents Hans Kai”

Louise Magnard
September 20, 2021

The Education and Solidarity Network met Michelle Kirkbride and Nancy Heinrichs from NorWest Co-Op, a community-based organization from Winnipeg, Canada. To engage their community in cooperative health and wellness, they developed and delivered a community-led health program named Hans Kai.

What is Hans Kai and How Does it Work?

NorWest Co-Op: Hans Kai (Japanese for group meeting as the program originated in Japan) is a participant led based health program that empowers individuals to take control of their own health and provides an opportunity for participants to have an active role in improving or maintaining their own health and well-being.

HANS KAI participants attend a 9-week health school to prepare them to meet independently.  We cover topics like healthy eating, meal planning, managing stress, physical activity, general health and more!

Once the health School is complete groups continue to meet and conduct self-health checks including blood pressure, engage in physical activity, enjoy healthy snacks and have time to socialize. Some groups even book additional topics or activities. HANS KAI is a great way to improve your health and have fun.

How has Hans Kai been adapted to a Canadian Context?

NorWest Co-Op: In 2007, NorWest Co-op Community Health Centre’s Executive Directors, Nancy Heinrichs and Robert Cliché Co-op de Santés Executive Director Nancie Allaire participated in a co-op tour of Japan organized by Dr Jean Pierre Girard. They were able to observe the Health Co-ops in Japan’s HANS KAI Program. Upon returning to Canada, both Nancy and Nancie began to work together on developing HANS KAI for Canadians.

The NorWest Co-op in Winnipeg began implementing Hans Kai in late 2009. This included a best practice search to look into similar programs to HANS KAI as well as setting up an inter-professional advisory committee of experts to help steer the project to implementation. The group developed a 9-session health school with Robert Cliché Co-op Santé in Beauceville, Quebec. This ensured that the HANS KAI program in Canada was standardized.

What do the research findings on Hans Kai show?

NorWest Co-Op: Believing that intrinsic health requires ongoing support and education, Hans Kai has recently completed an initial phase of research to detect the greatest value to its participants.  A mixed methods intervention research design was used involving multiple sites over a four-year period. Data were obtained from participant surveys and in-person interviews at 0, 6, 12 and 24 months.

There were statistically significant improvements from pre- to post-program in the area of mental health, and 66% of participants described specific behavior changes as a result of HANS Kai participation. Additional positive health impacts included peer support; acquisition of specific health knowledge; inspiration, motivation or accountability; the empowering effect of monitoring of their own health indicators; overcoming social isolation and improved knowledge of and access to services.  Upward trends were experienced in both physical activity levels and diet adjustments.

These findings have led the Hans Kai program to participate in a large-scale research initiative to focus on behavior change as a result of attending Hans Kai.  Areas of interest include: Self-efficacy, social support, behavior change in both physical activity and eating habits and finally measurable health outcomes, such as blood pressure, blood sugar and BMI.  We believe that this study will prove that by using education, social and community support, individuals can be empowered by developing their knowledge, change and improve their health behaviors and improve their health outcomes.

Thank you Michelle and Nancy!

More info on Hans Kai:

Michelle Kirkbride is the community development coordinator and Hans Kai lead at NorWest Co-Op Community Health Centre. Michelle has been working at NorWest since 1999 and has worked to develop the Hans Kai concepts so that it can be adapted for any population across the globe. Michelle has also worked with the committee development team and overseen a variety of community development-based projects and the expansion of the program itself.

Nancy Heinrichs is the executive director of the NorWest Community health centre since 2001. Nancy has extensive work experience with co-ops and healthcare in Manitoba, Canada, and across the globe. Nancy is renowned for bringing innovative projects and programs to NorWest. Under her leadership NorWest’s number of employees has increased from 35 to more than 150 and won multiple awards and an AON Hewitt platinum level employer.

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